CEDAW: Human Rights accountability for maternal death & unsafe abortion

Congratulations to Eszter Kismödi, LL.M. graduate of our International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Programme, for collaborating with her distinguished colleagues in the field of reproductive and sexual health law on this useful paper.   She is now Human Rights Adviser at the World Health Organization.    She can be reached at kismodie .AT.who. int.

Human rights accountability for maternal death and failure to provide safe, legal abortion: the significance of two ground-breaking CEDAW decisions, by  E. Kismödi, J.B. de Mesquita, X.A. Ibañez, R. Khosla  & L. Sepúlveda.  Reproductive Health Matters, June 2012 20(39): 31-9.   Article and abstract online

In 2011, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) issued two landmark decisions. In Alyne da Silva Pimentel v. Brazil, the first maternal death case decided by an international human rights body, it confirms that States have a human rights obligation to guarantee that all women, irrespective of their income or racial background, have access to timely, non-discriminatory, and appropriate maternal health services. In L.C. v. Peru, concerning a 13-year-old rape victim who was denied a therapeutic abortion and had an operation on her spine delayed that left her seriously disabled as a result, it established that the State should guarantee access to abortion when a woman’s physical or mental health is in danger, decriminalise abortion when pregnancy results from rape or sexual abuse, review its restrictive interpretation of therapeutic abortion and establish a mechanism to ensure that reproductive rights are understood and observed in all health care facilities. Both cases affirm that accessible and good quality health services are vital to women’s human rights and expand States’ obligations in relation to these. They also affirm that States must ensure national accountability for sexual and reproductive health rights, and provide remedies and redress in the event of violations. And they reaffirm the importance of international human rights bodies as sources of accountability for sexual and reproductive rights violations, especially where national accountability is absent or ineffective.

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