The Abortion Issue From A Human Rights Literature Perspective


The abortion debate remains contested. Which side has the moral high ground? The pro-lifers or pro-choice supporters? Men and women on both sides of the argument have advocated for and passed legislation in the U.S., displaying that there is a deep divide on the issue, and each side claims proof that shows they are right. However, this article is going to address an element that, unfortunately, a lot of abortion debate articles leave out.

And that is human rights. Specifically, domestic and international human rights legislation and policies regarding the abortion issue.

We are going to be looking at what the United Nations (UN), the U.S. government, and some human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) think about abortion and what consensing legislation these entities have passed. I would like to note that I am not claiming that the human rights legislation that the international community has currently is perfect, but it is a good place for both sides to start so we can all have an understanding of what human rights groups have agreed upon so far about abortion.

As of right now, the UN stands behind a individual’s right to have an abortion. The UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner has passed guidelines in support of women’s right to sexual and reproductive health: “Human rights bodies have provided clear guidance on when there is a need to decriminalize abortion, and have emphasized that access to abortion is a matter of human rights. Ensuring access to these services in accordance with human rights standards is part of State obligations to eliminate discrimination against women and to ensure women’s right to health…”

The UN also holds commissions, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, that have produced international human rights documents in support of abortion, “The criminalization of abortion is particularly heinous, because it not only impairs women’s right to reproductive choice – to make free and responsible decisions concerning matters that are key to control of their lives – but also exposes them to the serious health risks of unsafe abortion, violating their rights to bodily integrity and, in the most extreme cases, to life itself.”

The U.S. may agree with the international community on most human rights debates, but abortion is not one of them. This year, the UN Human Rights Security Council presented a resolution that condemned abuse and discrimination towards women. A passage in the resolution included asking countries to provide comprehensive healthcare for women,  which includes, “Safe abortion where such services are permitted by national law.” The U.S. could not accept the resolution because the U.S. government does not recognize abortion as a form of healthcare or a method of family planning.

Then came Roe v. Wade. This case is regarded as the reason abortion became legal nationwide. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court, “Drew on decades of case law that established that the government cannot interfere with certain personal decisions about procreation, marriage, and other aspects of family life.” With this decision, the Supreme Court proclaimed that a woman should be able to make personal decisions about her pregnancy and this deserves the highest protection of constitutional protection.

The U.S. cannot seem to make up its mind about its beliefs on abortion. Soon after Roe v. Wade, the Hyde Amendment came about that blocked federal Medicaid from being able to fund abortion services. And as of now, Congress is voting on a nationwide ban of abortions at 20-weeks or more.

Many NGOs have also weighed in on their stance in the abortion debate. Human Rights Watch takes a pro-choice stance, “Decisions about abortion belong to a pregnant woman without interference by the state or others.“ Another well-known human rights NGO, Amnesty International, shares this view and has launched a whole campaign protecting a women’s reproductive rights called “My Body My Rights.”

There are many more human rights guidelines one can pick and choose to prove or disprove one side of the abortion debate. The legislation and opinions listed above are some of the mainstream leaders in human rights thinking and research. All of the international organizations mentioned, like the UN and Amnesty International, hold pro-choice views and believe that a woman’s bodily autonomy should be protected above all. However, these beliefs are not always adopted by nations or individuals, as we see with the U.S. and its divided feelings over abortion.


Published on November 5, 2017 by Curious Caff 


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