The debate surrounding abortion is one that has been around for centuries, with the debate consisting of two main objectives and sides. The two main groups are the pro-choice movement and the pro-life movement, which have brought forth several controversial discussions concerning morality and legality regarding abortion rights as well as human rights.
Both movements look at abortion rights through the scope of human rights, by focusing on given human rights provisions and understanding the concept of a woman’s right to reproductive health.
The first group in the abortion debate is the pro-choice movement, where this movement when it comes to discussing abortion rights focuses mainly on ethical and political views concerning a woman’s right to choose.
“Much like human rights and a woman’s right to reproductive health, the issue surrounding abortion rights here lies with a woman’s right to choose whether or not she would want to terminate her pregnancy”
Along with focusing on a woman’s right to choose, and the concept of choosing the issue surrounding abortion from a pro-choice perspective also focuses on necessary and fundamental women’s rights such as the right to reproductive health, access to sexual education, access to safe and legal abortion, access to contraception and fertility treatments.
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The movement to make abortion rights legal from the perspective of the pro-choice debate centers around how the ultimate choice is a woman’s personal choice as abortions do not only affect a woman’s present but ultimately could alter the course of her future.
Pro-choice advocates argue for abortion rights to be legal under a human rights scope as well by arguing for the betterment of society, and general human rights by looking at the possible outcomes if a woman were to carry her pregnancy to term, and which outcome would ultimately benefit the woman more at the end.
It can be said that pro-choice advocates view abortion from the perspectives of providing women with reproductive freedom and reproductive rights.
The second group in the abortion debate is the pro-life group, where this group does not view abortion as being a fundamental human right and views abortion as being a violation of human rights and the fundamental right to life.
The notion behind the debate surrounding the pro-life movement is generally derived from the belief that a fetus is valued as having a right to life, thus by allowing for abortions to be carried out, it is seen as a direct violation of the fundamental human right concerning the right to life.
Unlike the pro-choice movement, the pro-life movement does not view abortion as being a way to combat human rights concerning a woman’s right to reproductive health, as abortion is viewed as being morally and ethically wrong.
Much of the pro-life movements debates centers around ethical and moral beliefs where a fetus should be valued as having human life, and thus any act to harm that life is considered as morally wrong.
Thus, the debate surrounding abortion is a debate that focuses on the issues of choice regarding a woman’s right to reproductive health and that’s why most abortion debates generally refer to fundamental human rights as the right to have an abortion should be determined from a woman’s right to choose regarding her reproductive health.
Background Of Human Rights Concerning Abortion
To understand how human rights have aided in advancing abortion rights across laws and societies, it is important to first understand what human rights and abortion are.
The term abortion refers to the deliberate termination of a pregnancy, usually carried out within the first 28 weeks.
The term human rights refer to the rights granted to all human beings, which in the case of abortion also refers to the right to reproductive health.
From these given definitions, it can be argued that it is not possible to achieve abortion rights without the assistance of human rights acting as a forefront for advocating such abortion rights and women’s rights.
Much of the issue surrounding abortion rights can be linked back to human rights across history and across several societies.
Over the course of 40 years, the issues surrounding abortion as a human rights issue has consistently evolved.
However, the primary concern is the evolution of human rights concerning women’s reproductive rights. A woman’s right to reproductive health was first generally recognized in the 1960s during the first-ever global meeting on human rights.
This global meeting was the first of its kind to explicitly discuss and understand a woman’s right to decide when to have kids, as well as to understand a woman’s right to choose regarding her reproductive health.
After the first general global meeting regarding human rights, there began to be more treaties and meetings to combat the issue of abortion rights under a human rights scope.
The 1970’s saw the first human rights treaty that openly discussed issues concerning family planning, including issues surrounding abortion.
Family planning refers to the practice in which families have the choice to decide upon the number of children they wish to have, which again links back to abortion as in some cases abortions allow individuals the choice regarding the number of children they wish to have.
As time progressed, human rights issues also continued to progress and abortion continued to be at the forefront of most human rights debates.
The year 1994 saw the first time in which 179 governments regarded pregnancy and childbirth as a basic right, thus implementing the concept of a woman’s right to reproductive health as a fundamental right.
This recognition occurred during the International Conference on Population and Development.
Furthermore, in 1995 the United Nations General Assembly1 established an agreement to allow for abortion to be carried out in instances where it is allowed for by the law and does not go against standard human rights principles, thus further cementing the concept of woman’s right to reproductive health as a fundamental human right.
Abortion Under Human Rights
The topic surrounding abortion rights linking back to women’s right has constantly been rooted under fundamental principles of human rights.
In most cases, abortion generally refers to the following rights; right to life, right to health, right to privacy, and right to non-discrimination.
Across international human rights debates, these rights are often discussed and implemented in various societies and laws as being a woman’s right to reproductive health.
However, the debate surrounding abortion under human rights tends to be controversial one in the instances in which a woman is denied such basic access to these rights through governments discriminating against women and hindering access to women for safe, secure and legal abortion methods and procedures.
International Human Rights
Generally, international human rights laws have been established to ensure that governments can be held responsible for denying women access to basic rights, and have been established to ensure that these rights are provided in a fair and just manner.
Thus, human rights and abortion rights can only be widely accepted for by everyone if governments and laws work together to ensure that the rights are equally distributed across each sector.
When speaking of human rights as being a tool for the implementation and advocation of abortion rights across societies and legal systems, it is important to focus on the following conventions and treaties which contain women’s rights as the root.
These conventions and treaties are as follows; the CEDAW, the ICCPR10, the ICESCR11, and the ICERD12. Each convention and treaty has cemented the protection of human rights and advocated abortion rights through various provisions and treaties.
These provisions and treaties can be divided into categories concerning human rights, with these categories being a woman’s right to health, right to life, right to health (general), right against discrimination.
A woman’s right to health can further be understood and analyzed by discussing articles 128 and 169 of the CEDAW. The aforementioned provisions focus on how a woman’s right to health refers to all rights during a woman’s term of pregnancy, and during childbirth by valuing such rights as being closely linked to an individual’s right to life.
It can be said that the main purpose of the CEDAW3 under the aforementioned provisions as well as the general recommendation 24 is to provide protection for women’s right to health, by ensuring that committees and societies across the world recognize such rights and allow for platforms in which these rights can be openly discussed and implemented.
The right to life can further be analyzed and discussed by focusing on articles 6 and 7, with the assistance of article 9 of the ICCPR.
The term right to life generally refers to a human rights term discussing an individual’s inherent right to life, meaning the right to live.
Under the aforementioned provisions of the ICCPR, and in the scope of abortion rights it can be said that the right to life here refers to guaranteeing protection for women when it comes to abortion rights by ensuring that a woman has a right to life when undergoing abortion procedures by further ensuring that no such procedure will cause direct harm to the woman and endanger her in any way.
Thus, the right to life when focusing on abortion refers to providing protection for women against life-threatening procedures.
The right to health in a general scope can be analyzed by focusing on article 12 of the ICESCR, which focuses more on looking at health across two perspectives. The article refers to right to health by describing health to be of both mental and physical states.
When focusing on this right in relation to abortion rights, it refers to allowing protection for a woman’s mental health to be protected as abortion procedures can be traumatic, as well as ensuring in cases where a woman does not wish to carry out an abortion, both the physical health of the mother and child are protected.
The right against discrimination is a fundamental right that has plagued debates across the world when it comes to discussing abortion rights and advocating for abortion rights.
To further understand this right, it is important to focus on article 5 of the ICERD as this article details protection for women against discrimination.
Although the article does not specifically focus on discrimination through the scopes of abortion rights, the article does provide protection for individuals against discrimination by ensuring that individuals have the right to protection from violence and bodily harm.
Thus, when applying this article to abortion rights and women’s rights, it can be said that women should not be denied general access to receiving an abortion as in some cases, carrying a pregnancy to term could ultimately cause bodily harm to the women and in certain cases could result in death and thus violating the principles of the aforementioned article, and the right to life.
Human Rights Advocating For Abortion Rights
As mentioned earlier, human rights play a huge part in advocating for human rights by providing for treaties and conventions that allow for the enforcement and implementation of rights across various societies.
The earlier section focused more on the instruments of human rights that govern various rights and how those rights advocate abortion rights, while this section will focus more specifically on each right under the scope of abortion.
Human rights generally provide a platform in which abortion rights can be recognized universally and understood universally. Human Rights are regarded as being universal rights in which everyone globally has access to.
On a general scope, human rights are viewed as being universal rights that are universally recognized, however, they are also interdependent on each individual state’s rights and a society’s laws and regulations.
When discussing human rights under the scope of abortion, it is vital to focus on reproductive rights as reproductive rights are seen as being the fundamental rights to which women often are denied access to, and is often the root cause of abortion debates across the world.
The term reproductive rights are derived from the general concept of women’s human rights, however reproductive rights focus more on a woman’s choice, the choice to decide to reproduce, to plan a family, to terminate a pregnancy, to use contraceptives, and the access to contraceptives, access to sex education as well as access to reproductive health services across societies.
The concept of reproductive rights is not a concept that belongs to one particular society, but rather it is a globally acknowledged concept where it is universally recognized as being a woman’s right to health.
It can be said that reproductive rights are inseparable from women’s human rights, and any dehumanization of these rights could ultimately lead to negative outcomes.
An example in which reproductive rights play a vital part in the way societies enforce and implement women’s rights is the case of Nepal, where the supreme court of Nepal made a judgment closing the gap between abortion liberalization and women’s international human rights.
The judgment allowed for abortions to be carried out under the scopes of human rights, by allowing women the right to choose, right to reproductive health under the conditions provided for by law, particularly the conditions provided for under article 1213 of the Nepal Penal Code.
However, this case is a clear example of how nations are beginning to accept and universally understand a women’s rights to reproductive health, by accepting the general notion that abortion rights do fall under the category of right to reproductive health.
Although there have been various treaties and conventions set up, as well as the establishment of national courts such as the Human Rights Committee and the CEDAW3, it can still be argued that there are huge gaps in creating treaties/laws and enforcing such treaties and laws to provide proper delivery and care of health services for women.
It can further be argued that there are limitations to human rights protections and the laws provided for under human rights, as in some cases the access to general human rights mean nothing and is unsuccessful if a woman cannot obtain or afford access to health and abortion.
Therefore, this means that if human rights are in place advocating for women to have the right to choose whether or not she wants to get an abortion, but the abortion is not freely available to her, it would mean that she still does not have the right to choose her own reproductive health as there is little done to provide security and easy access for her.