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Is access to abortion medicines a human right?

The WHO listed the abortion medicines mifepristone and misoprostol as essential medicines since 2005.[1]

Access to essential medicines as part of the right to the highest attainable standard of health ("the right to health") is well-founded in numerous international human rights treaties, such as:

  1. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Article 25.1 in 1948;
  2. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Article 5 (e) (iv) in 1965;
  3. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Article 12.1 in 1966;
  4. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; Articles 11 (1) (f), 12 and 14 (2) (b) in 1979;
  5. The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child; Article 24;
  6. The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; Articles 28, 43 (e) and 45 (c) in 1990;
  7. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Article 25 in 2006.

The authoritative General Comment 14 (2000) further applies the principles of accessibility, availability, appropriateness and assured quality to goods and services, which include essential medicines "as defined by the WHO Action Program on Essential Drugs.”[2]

In October 2011, Anand Grover, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, submitted a report to the UN General Assembly which stated, “Criminal laws penalizing and restricting induced abortion are the paradigmatic examples of impermissible barriers to the realization of women's right to health and must be eliminated. These laws infringe women's dignity and autonomy by severely restricting decision-making by women in respect of their sexual and reproductive health.”[3]

General comment No. 22 (2016) on the right to sexual and reproductive health (article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) states that, “Essential medicines should also be available, including a wide range of contraceptive methods, such as condoms and emergency contraception, medicines for abortion and for post-abortion care, and medicines, including generic medicines, for the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections and HIV.”[4]

The World Health Organization’s definition of health is: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”[5]

On October 30, 2018  Human rights committee stated in the General comment No. 36 (2018) on  article6 of the  International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to life: 

"Although States parties may adopt measures designed to regulate voluntary terminations of pregnancy, such measures must not result in violation of the right to life of a pregnant woman or girl, or her other rights under the Covenant. Thus, restrictions on the  ability of women or girls to seek abortion must not, inter alia, jeopardize their lives, subject them to physical or mental pain or suffering which violates article 7, discriminate against them or arbitrarily interfere with their privacy. States parties must provide safe, legal and effective access to abortion where the life and health of the pregnant woman or girl is at risk, and where carrying a pregnancy to term would cause the pregnant woman or girl substantial pain or suffering, most notably where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or is not viable. In addition, States parties may not regulate pregnancy or abortion in all other cases in a manner that runs contrary to their duty to ensure that women and girls do not have to undertake unsafe abortions, and they should revise their abortion laws accordingly. For example, they should not take measures such as criminalizing pregnancies by unmarried women or apply criminal sanctions against women and girls undergoing abortion  or against medical service providers assisting them in doing so, since taking such measures compel women and girls to resort to unsafe abortion. States parties should not introduce new barriers and should remove existing barriers  that deny effective access by women and girls to safe and legal abortion, including barriers caused as a result of the exercise of conscientious objection by individual medical providers. States parties should also effectively protect the lives of women and girls against the mental and physical health risks associated with unsafe abortions. In particular, they should ensure access for women and men, and, especially, girls and boys, to quality and evidence-based information and education about sexual and reproductive health and to a wide range of affordable contraceptive methods, and prevent the stigmatization of women and girls seeking abortion. States parties should ensure the availability of, and effective access to, quality prenatal and post-abortion health care for women and girls, in all circumstances, and on a confidential basis. 

 

[1] http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/93142/1/EML_18_eng.pdf

[2] http://www.who.int/medicines/areas/human_rights/en/

[3] https://www.un.org/press/en/2011/gashc4018.doc.htm 

[4] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=17168&LangID=E#sthash.MfGe1y5D.XSS87v3P.dpufh

[5] http://apps.who.int/gb/bd/PDF/bd47/EN/constitution-en.pdf?ua=1