Reproductive rights

Reproductive rights are rights relating to reproduction and reproductive health. Various reproductive rights have been claimed as human rights in international human rights documents, particularly with the ratification of the Convention to End Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the adoption of the the Cairo Programme and the Beijing Platform. Reproductive rights are often held to include the right to legal abortion, the right to control one's reproductive functions, the right to access quality reproductive healthcare, and the right to education and access in order to make reproductive choices free from coercion, discrimination, and violence.

While the term is often associated with the pro-choice position, which states that abortion should be a legal option for any pregnant woman, reproductive rights encompass more than the abortion issue. Reproductive rights were first discussed as a subset of human rights at the United Nation's 1968 International Conference on Human Rights. The sixteenth article of the Proclamation of Teheran states, "Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children." Reproductive rights advocates work to secure affordable access to abortion, contraception, as well as education about contraception and sexually transmitted infections, and freedom from coerced sterilization and contraception, for both men and women. In addition, reproductive rights advocates endeavor to protect all women from harmful gender-based practices. Examples include cultural practices such as female genital cutting, or FGC, as well as state, customary and religious laws that contribute to women's political and economic disenfranchisment.

History of reproductive rights

In 1945, the UN Charter included the obligation "to promote... universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without discrimination as to race, sex, language, or religion". However, the Charter did not define these rights. Three years later, the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first international legal document to delineate human rights. It did not mention reproductive rights. The first international document to mention reproductive rights as a subset of human rights was the Teheran Declaration, the Final Act of the UN's international rights conference. The Proclamation states: "Parents have a basic right to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and a right to adequate education and information in this respect". This right was adopted by the UN General Assembly in the Declaration on Social Progress and Development, by the World Food Conference in Rome (1974), as well as parlimentarian conferences internationally.

The international women's rights movement established itself with the 1975 International Women's Year Conference, the beginning of the UN's Decade for Women. Of the 1000-plus delegates at the 1975 Conference, 70 percent were women. Moving beyond the language of the Teheran Declaration, the Conference included reproductive autonomy in its Declaration, grounding its definition of reproductive choice on the idea of "bodily integrity and control:"

Article 11: It should be one of the principal aims of social education to teach respect for physical integrity and its rightful place in human life. The human body whether that of woman or man, is inviolable and respect for it is a fundamental element of human dignity and freedom.

Article12: Every couple and every individual has the right to decide freely and responsibly whether or not to have children as well as to determine their number and spacing, and to have information, education and means to do so.

Cairo Programme

Women's reproductive health is often compromised by infringements on women's human rights. In 1994 the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics' World Report on Women's Health concluded that state action was required to address injustices relating to women's health. That same year, the UN held the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo. The Programme of Action (Cairo Programme) emphasized the importance of protecting women's human rights, particularly those relating to reproductive health. Expanding on the World Health Organization's definition of health, the Programme defined reproductive health as:

a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and...not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and its functions and processes. Reproductive health therefore implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so. Implicit in this last condition are the right of men and women to be informed [about] and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice, as well as other methods for regulation of fertility which are not against the law, and the right of access to appropriate health-care services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant [para. 72].
The Cairo Programme of Action was adopted by 184 UN member states.

The late American ecologist Garrett Hardin questioned the validity of a right to breed excessively, pointing to limited resources. He wrote, "The only way we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed, and that very soon."

Beijing Platform

The 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and its Declaration and Platform for Action supported the Cairo Programme's definition of reproductive health, but established a broader context of reproductive rights:

The human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. Equal relationships between women and men in matters of sexual relations and reproduction, including full respect for the integrity of the person, require mutual respect for the integrity of the person, require mutual respect, consent and shared responsibility for sexual behavior and its consequences [para. 96].
The Beijing Platform demarcated twelve interrelated critical areas of the human rights of women that require advocacy. The Platform framed women's reproductive rights as "indivisible, universal and inalienable human rights."

Reproductive rights as a women's issue

Organizations such as the Center for Reproductive Rights, the United Nations Population Fund, the World Health Organization and the National Organization for Women pursue reproductive rights with a primary emphasis on women's rights. While much attention has been paid to abortion rights as one aspect of reproductive rights, groups focus on a range of issues from access to family planning services, sex education, menopause, and the reduction of obstetric fistula, to the relationship between reproductive health and economic status.

The group Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) spoke for a variety of women when it stated:

Control over reproduction is a basic need and a basic right for all women. Linked as it is to women's health and social status, as well as the powerful social structures of religion, state control and administrative inertia, and private profit, it is from the perspective of poor women that this right can best be understood and affirmed. Women know that childbearing is a social, not a purely personal, phenomenon; nor do we deny that world population trends are likely to exert considerable pressure on resources and institutions by the end of this century. But our bodies have become a pawn in the struggles among states, religions, male heads of households, and private corporations. Programs that do not take the interests of women into account are unlikely to succeed...

There has also been an attempt to look at the socioeconomic conditions that affect a woman's access to reproductive health care. The term reproductive justice has been used to describe these broader social and economic issues. Proponents of reproductive justice argue that while the right to legalized abortion and contraception applies to everyone, these choices are only meaningful to those with resources, and that there is a growing gap between access and affordability (Kirk, Okazawa-Rey 2004).

Reproductive rights as a men's issue

Men's reproductive rights have been claimed by various organizations, both for issues of reproductive health, and other rights related to sexual reproduction.

Three international issues in men's reproductive health are disease, cancer and exposure to toxins. One of the major issues concerning men's fertility is the transmission and effects of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). STDs can reduce men's fertility: infections can cause epididymitis, the inflammation of the tubes from the testes to the vas deferens. Epididymitis in men under the age of 35 is most often caused by sexually transmitted organisms, Neisseria gonorrheae or Chlamydia trachomatis, in particular.

One group, The National Center for Men (NCM), has claimed certain reproductive rights of men are not legally recognized. On their website, the NCM claim to have brought a case to the United States sixth circuit Court of Appeals, which they label "Roe vs. Wade For Men."

Reproductive rights in the United States

In the United States, the public debate surrounding reproduction rights is often about abortion rights. Reproductive rights advocates support a woman's right to abortion and contraception from within the context of the right to privacy, or freedom from governmental interference, supporting legalized contraception and abortion.

In the United States Constitution, the right to privacy has been interpreted to include reproductive rights, as seen in numerous Supreme Court cases. Three important cases are Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972), and Roe v. Wade (1973). In Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme court overturned a state law prohibiting the use of contraceptives, which established a constitutional right to privacy and legalized contraception for married people. Eisenstadt v. Baird extended the right to use contraceptives to unmarried people. Roe v. Wade legalized abortion on a federal level.

The term procreative liberty was coined by John A. Robertson, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Texas School of Law.