Right to life
Human rights standards
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- Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
- This declaration is the foundational instrument shaping modern day international and regional human rights standards and treaties across the globe. Article 1 reads "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." (the history of drafting negotiations of the UDHR, indicates that the word "born" was used intentionally to exclude a prenatal application of the rights protected in the Declaration (see Copelon article below for more detailed history).
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
- Article 6(1) protects the right to life. The drafters of the ICCPR specifically rejected a proposal to amend this article to provide that "the right to life is inherent in the human person from the moment of conception, this right shall be protected by law." In its General Comment 28 on the Equality of Rights between Men and Women, the Human Rights Committee has asked States to provide it with information on any measures taken by the State to help women prevent unwanted pregnancies, and to ensure that they do not have to undergo life-threatening clandestine abortions. It also needs to know whether the State party gives access to safe abortion to women who have become pregnant as a result of rape.
- Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Paragraph 9 of preamble states: "the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth." The history of negotiations and subsequent interpretations of the Convention by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child make clear that this language is not intended to extend right to life protections prenatally. The history of negotiations calling for safeguards before birth clarified that "the purpose of the amendment was not to preclude the possibility of abortion." The Committee on the Rights of the Child has never stated that there is a right to life before birth and has never criticized liberal abortion laws. The Committee has, however, criticized restrictive abortion laws that force adolescent girls to undergo unsafe abortions and in its general Comment 4 called on states to develop programs that provide access to safe abortion services. (For more details, see journal articles and organization publications.)
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
- CEDAW and its interpretive body, the UN CEDAW Committee, has never extended Convention protection prenatally. In fact, the Committee has note that restrictive abortion laws or denial of lawful abortion can violate women's right to life and health as it forces women to undergo illegal and unsafe abortions and constitutes gender-based discrimination. Its General Recommendation 24 called for amending legislation criminalizing abortion. CEDAW recognizes that measures to protect prenatal life must be pursued consistently with the human rights of women. These measures include state provision of safe motherhood services and prenatal assistance, and welfare provisions to ease the social and economic burdens of pregnant women.
- UN Special Rapporteur on Health, Report on the Criminalization of Sexual and Reproductive Health (2011).
- While not explicitly addressing this issue, the report criticizes criminalization of abortion and criminalization of other conduct by pregnant women that may result in harm to the fetus. It recommends the decriminalization of abortion and other conduct.