UN Office of Human Rights Continues Drum Beat for New Human Right to Maternal Health

The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) has presented a new report to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council on “Preventable Maternal Mortality and Morbidity and Human Rights” that calls for a new “right” to maternal health.

The pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) heralded the new report and boasted of having a “leading role” in getting maternal mortality put on the human rights agenda. CRR organized three panels on implanting a “human rights-based approach” to reducing maternal mortality at the recent Women Deliver 2 conference.

Because maternal mortality only effects women, the OHCHR report asserts that failures to prevent maternal deaths and injuries constitute violations of “the right to life, the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and the right to non-discrimination.” As evidence of the obligation to promote and protect maternal health, OHCHR cites the non-binding recommendations of human rights treaty monitoring bodies.

At the heart of the report is the argument that “unsafe abortion” is a major component of preventable maternal mortality. The report notes UN treaty bodies have asked countries “to ensure that women are not forced to undergo clandestine abortion that endanger their lives.” As part of their obligation to reduce maternal mortality, OHCHR claims that “ensuring women’s access to maternal health and other sexual and reproductive health services may require addressing discriminatory laws, policies, practices and gender inequalities in health care and in society.”

The OHCHR recommendations emphasize an expanded use of the “rights-based approach” on maternal mortality throughout the entire UN system. OHCHR also demands countries address the “human rights dimension of maternal mortality” in their universal periodic reviews and for special rapporteurs to include maternal mortality in their reports. To “ensure” that countries are fulfilling their obligations to reduce preventable maternal mortality, the OHCHR report also calls for the establishment of monitoring mechanisms.

Eyewitnesses to the presentation of the report in Geneva last week were frustrated at the proceedings where pro-life interventions were shut out. The Holy See, a governmental delegation, was not allowed to address the meeting though time was given to pro-abortion NGOs Amnesty International and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children’s representative Patrick Buckley was present at the Geneva meeting and pointed out the inconsistencies of the OHCHR report. The report lists prenatal care and skilled birth attendants as the most effective means of reducing maternal mortality. However, Buckley said that the report’s emphasis on abortion access shows the “underlying ideological drive to establish abortion as a human right” and represents “a fundamental denial and distortion of the real meaning of genuine human rights.”

The OHCHR report is expected to have a major impact in anticipation of the September 2010 high-level review on the Millennium Development Goals.

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