Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights
Sexual and reproductive health are integral elements of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Many obstacles stand between individuals and their enjoyment to sexual and reproductive health. These obstacles are interrelated and entrenched, operating at different levels: in clinical care, at the level of health systems, and in the underlying determinants of health. In addition to biological factors, social, economic and other conditions bear upon a woman’s sexual and reproductive health.
The Special Rapporteur reiterates the importance of a “policy approach” to the right to health, especially in relation to sexual and reproductive health, and in poverty reduction (E/CN.4/2004/49, 2004).
Many causes of maternal mortality are closely related to a failure to realize the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Properly integrated, the right to health can help ensure that the relevant policies to address maternal mortality are more equitable, sustainable and robust. The right to health also provides a powerful campaigning tool in the struggle for a reduction in maternal mortality.
The burden of maternal mortality is borne disproportionately by developing countries. In many countries, marginalized women, such as women living in poverty, and ethnic minority or indigenous women, are more vulnerable to maternal mortality. Maternal mortality and morbidity rates reveal sharp discrepancies between men and women in their enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health rights (A/61/338, 2006).
Restrictions on Abortion
The Special Rapporteur has considered the impact of criminal and other legal restrictions on abortion; conduct during pregnancy; contraception and family planning; and the provision of sexual and reproductive education and information. Some criminal and other legal restrictions in each of those areas, which are often discriminatory in nature, violate the right to health by restricting access to quality goods, services and information. They infringe human dignity by restricting the freedoms to which individuals are entitled under the right to health, particularly in respect of decision-making and bodily integrity. Moreover, the application of such laws as a means to achieving certain public health outcomes is often ineffective and disproportionate (A/66/254, 2011).
The nature of and challenges associated with sexual and reproductive health rights in adolescence have also been examined by the mandate. Healthy sexual development requires not only physical maturation, but an understanding of healthy sexual behaviours and a positive sense of sexual well-being. Sexual initiation can be a natural and healthy aspect of adolescence, and adolescents have the right to be provided with the tools and information to navigate sex safely. Sexual activity among adolescents is widespread, although rates vary significantly. Yet, adolescents around the world face significant discrimination and barriers in accessing the information, services and goods needed to protect their sexual and reproductive health, resulting in violations of their right to health.
States should adopt a comprehensive gender-sensitive and non-discriminatory sexual and reproductive health policy for all adolescents. They should integrate the policy into national strategies and programmes. The policy must be consistent with the human rights standards and recognize that unequal access by adolescents constitutes discrimination (A/HRC/32/32, 2016).
Country visits, statements and press releases
In addition the thematic reports cited above, all reports of
country visits by the Special Rapporteur on the right to health address aspects of sexual and reproductive health.
Poland has slammed door shut on legal and safe abortions, say UN experts, 27 October 2020
United States: Authorities manipulating COVID-19 crisis to restrict access to abortion, say UN experts, 27 May 2020
UN experts call veto of Ecuador's Organic Health Code "a missed opportunity to advance gender equality and health care," 21 October 2020
Poland urged not to criminalise sex education or tighten access to abortion, 6 April 2020
Time for world leaders to honour 25-year-old promises and renew their commitments on women's rights, say human rights experts, 11 November 2019
Croatia must act now to end violence and abuse against women in reproductive health procedures, say UN experts, 22 February 2019
States must act now to allow safe, legal abortions for women and girls, say UN rights experts, 27 September 2018
Argentina: UN rights experts regret Senate's rejection of bill to legalise abortion, 10 August 2018
El Salvador: UN experts urge Congress to allow termination of pregnancy in specific circumstances, 8 May 2017
Honduras needs progressive reform of abortion law to advance women's human rights, say UN experts, 28 April 2017
Grave regression for Dominican women and girls' right to health – UN experts call for the Criminal Code reform to be dropped, 27 July 2016
UN and African experts urge Sierra Leone's President to save millions of women's lives by signing the 2015 Safe Abortion Bill, 28 January 2016
More needs to be done to protect women's sexual and reproductive health and rights – UN and regional experts on the occasion of the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, September 2015
Guadalupe's pardon: UN experts urge El Salvador to pardon all women jailed for pregnancy complications and repeal restrictive abortion law, 28 January 2015