Health

UN: Abortion Is A Human Right

| by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades
Anencephalic fetus Anencephalic fetus

Abortion is legal in Peru when the mother’s life and health are in danger, but in 2001, a 17-year-old girl identified as K.L. was 14-weeks pregnant with a fetus that had Anencephaly, a fatal birth defect. Anencephaly consists of an underdeveloped brain and incomplete skull. She gave birth and had to watch the child die four days later.

K.L. was denied access to abortion by Peruvian health officials, who claimed the guidelines were unclear, although she claimed in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights that the pregnancy compromised her “physical and psychological health,” which constituted “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”

The legal complaint was ultimately brought to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2005 and in 2016, the matter was finally resolved. Peru has agreed to compensate K.L. because she was denied an abortion, UN Dispatch reported. Despite the long delay of justice, the ruling effectively lays out the precedent that abortion is a human right. 

Because K.L.’s lawyers, Luisa Cabal and Lilian Sepúlveda, argued that Peru’s failure to give her access to abortion constituted “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” was violating her human rights under U.N. statutes.

“It’s time for Peru to clarify and implement its safe abortion guidelines and continue improving access to critical reproductive health services for all women and girls, Center for Reproductive Rights Chief Executive Officer Nancy Northrup said in a statement to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner. 

Although the case is something of a legal precedent in establishing abortion as a human right, the U.N. has raised the issue in the past - although they’ve stopped short of requesting countries make the procedure universally legal. 

For example, when the U.N. reviewed Ireland’s highly restrictive abortion policies in 2014, the expressed concern over the country’s “highly restrictive circumstances under which women can lawfully have an abortion,” and recommended the country adopt guidelines on cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormalities and instances where the mother’s health is in danger, according to a U.N. report. Similar issues regarding abortion have been raised in Chile, where there is a blanket ban on the procedure.

Sources: Center for Reproductive Rights, Huffington Post, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner, Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Ireland / Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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