Northern Ireland: Advocating Abortion Rights – Local and Global Tensions

April 25, 2017
Congratulations to Dr. Catherine O’Rourke of the Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster University, Northern Ireland.  Her useful journal article was recently published in a special issue of Social & Legal Studies,  guest-edited by Siobhan Mullally, on “Regulating Abortion: Dissensus and the Politics of Rights”:

Catherine O’Rourke “Advocating Abortion Rights in Northern Ireland: Local and Global Tensions,” Social and Legal Studies 25 (6). pp. 716-740.
Published PDF       Accepted text (before minor revisions)

Abstract:       It is frequently claimed that the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is more significant for the cultural, rather than legal, work that it does in reframing locally contested gender issues as the subject of international human rights. While this argument is well developed in respect of violence against women, CEDAW’s cultural traction is less clear in respect of women’s right to access safe and legal abortion. This article examines the request made jointly by Alliance for Choice, the Family Planning Association Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform to the CEDAW Committee to request an inquiry under the CEDAW Optional Protocol into access to abortion in the jurisdiction. The study found that the CEDAW framework was useful in underpinning alliances between diverse pro-choice organizations but less effective in securing the support of ‘mainstream’ human rights organizations in the jurisdiction. The article argues that the local cultural possibilities of CEDAW must be understood as embedded within both the broader structural gendered limitations of international human rights law and persistent regressive gendered sub-themes within mainstream human rights advocacy.
For full text of this article, see:
“Regulating Abortion: Dissensus and the Politics of Rights”:  special issue of Social & Legal Studies, ed. Siobhan Mullally and Clare Murray:  Table of Contents
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AFRICA: Legal Grounds III: Reproductive and Sexual Rights in Sub-Saharan African Courts – 54 case summaries

February 14, 2017


by: Godfrey Kangaude, Onyema Afulukwe, Guy-Fleury Ntwari, et al.
Foreword by Prof. Charles G. Ngwena
PULP (Pretoria University Law Press) 2017
228 page book onlinePrevious volumes.
Printable flyer with Table of Contents

Reproductive and sexual rights, which are guaranteed in constitutions and in international and regional human rights treaties, have no impact if they are not recognized and enforced by national-level courts. Legal Grounds: Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Sub-Saharan African Courts Volume III continues to provide much-needed information about whether and how national courts of African countries apply constitutional and human rights to protect reproductive and sexual rights. The case summaries, significance sections, and thematic highlights serve as useful resources for those seeking to further develop litigation, advocacy, and capacity- building strategies.

Like its predecessors, Legal Grounds: Reproductive and Sexual Rights in Sub-Saharan African Courts – Volume III is a tool for organizations, individuals, and institutions of learning. The scope of this third volume has been widened beyond Commonwealth African countries to include cases from Francophone countries, while focusing more exclusively on court decisions related to reproductive and sexual health. This compelling publication contributes towards a knowledge base of court decisions that bear directly or indirectly on the exercise of reproductive and sexual health as constitutional and human rights in Africa.
228 page book onlinePrevious volumes Printable flyer with Table of Contents.

Foreword, Introduction, Acknowledgments
Children and Adolescents
—Child, Forced and Early Marriage
—Female Genital Mutilation legal-grounds/
—Sexual Abuse, Assault and Violence
—Consensual Sexual Conduct
—Student Pregnancy
—Maternal Health Care and Services
Abortion and Fetal Interests
—Wrongful Birth or Life
Adoption and Surrogacy
Gender, Sexuality, Women and Discrimination
—Disability, Sexuality and Criminal Law
—Women and Criminal Law
—Legal Recognition of Intersexuality
—Gender Identity
—Sexual Orientation
—Recognition of LGBTIQ Advocacy and Groups
—Access to Treatment
—Criminalisation of Transmission
—Forced Sterilization
—Discrimination in Employment
Francophone Africa / L’Afrique Francophone
—Adultery, Polygamy, Infanticide
Appendices – Table of Cases, Online Resources, Endnotes

Child Marriage: Legal and Socio-Cultural Aspects, by Godfrey Kangaude
Adolescent Consensual Sexual Conduct, by Godfrey Kangaude
Sexual Abuse, Assault and Violence, by Victoria Balogun
Maternal Health Care and Services, by Tinyade Kachika
Abortion and Fetal Interests, by Onyema Afulukwe
Adoption and Surrogacy, by Ronaldah Lerato Karabo Ozah
Gender, Sexuality, Women and Discrimination, by MaryFrances Lukera
Criminalisation of HIV Non-Disclosure, Exposure and Transmission, by Jacinta Nyachae
Sexual and Reproductive Rights of Women Living with HIV, by Ebenezer Durojaye
Towards Respect for Human Diversity, by Godfrey Kangaude

COUNTRIES:  Benin, Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda,  Zambia, Zimbabwe

228 page book online.  Previous volumes.
Printable flyer with Table of Contents.

Zika virus infection in Brazil and human rights obligations

January 13, 2017

Many thanks to the authors of this useful new article in the Ethical and Legal Issues section of the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics.  Debora Diniz and Sinara Gumieri are affiliated with the Anis Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender, Beatriz Galli is Senior Policy Advisor at Ipas Brazil, and Rebecca Cook and Bernard Dickens are professors emeriti at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law.

 The February 2016, the WHO declaration that congenital Zika virus syndrome constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern reacted to the outbreak of the syndrome in Brazil. Public health emergencies can justify a spectrum of human rights responses, but in Brazil, the emergency exposed prevailing inequities in the national healthcare system. The government’s urging to contain the syndrome, which is associated with microcephaly among newborns, is confounded by lack of reproductive health services. Women with low incomes in particular have little access to such health services. The emergency also illuminates the harm of restrictive abortion legislation, and the potential violation of human rights regarding women’s health and under the UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child and on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Suggestions have been proposed by which the government can remedy the widespread healthcare inequities among the national population that are instructive for other countries where congenital Zika virus syndrome is prevalent.

Free access to PDF for 12 months.
Typescript online.

Related Resources:
“The Zika Virus and Brazilian Women’s Right to Choose,” op/ed by Debora Diniz, February 8, 2016.  New York Times.
“Zika: More than a health issue (Dec 1, 2016)  53-minute  TV interview with English subtitles.
“Zika” documentary  30 minutes, April 2016, with English subtitles;
“Zika emergency pushes women to challenge Brazilian abortion law”  Guardian news report.
Zika: Do Sertão nordestino à ameaça global  by  Debora Diniz  (Rio de Janeiro:  Civilização Brasileira, 2016).  Portuguese: Book or e-bookSinopseA história contada.
[Zika: from Brazilian backlands to global threat] Forthcoming in English from Zed Books in September 2017, this book analyses scientific discoveries regarding Zika in Brazil as well as the impact of the epidemic on poor black and brown women’s lives.

Compiled by the Coordinator of the International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Program, reprohealth*law at   For Program publications and resources, see our website, online here.     TO JOIN THIS BLOG: enter your email address in upper right corner of this webpage, then check your email to confirm the subscription.

African Courts recognize sexually diverse persons and LGBTI advocates

December 20, 2016

Many thanks to Godfrey Kangaude, author of a highlight commentary “Towards Respect for Human Diversity,” in  Legal Grounds III: Reproductive and Sexual Rights in Sub-Saharan African Courts (forthcoming February 2017).  We are pleased to provide the following excerpt for REPROHEALTHLAW subscribers:

. . . Many governments have adopted constitutions that recognise human dignity and equality. Yet in The Attorney General of Botswana v. Thuto Rammoge and 19 Others, the Attorney General of Botswana tried to argue that the Constitution of Botswana did not apply to persons of non-heterosexual orientation. This reflects a pervasive attitude in governments driven by politicians who do not believe in the human dignity and equality stipulated by their own constitutions.

Persons of non-heterosexual orientation, or whose gender identity and expression does not conform to some traditional gender notions, continue to face government-sponsored hate and victimization.  Sometimes this has been indirect, for instance through a refusal to recognise the rights to association and expression such as in the Thuto Rammoge cases in Botswana [1, 2], the Gitari case [3] and Ex-parte Transgender Education and Advocacy case [4] in Kenya, and the Kasonkomona case [5] in Zambia. Apart from criminalizing sexual conduct, governments deploy other laws to prevent LGBTI persons from enjoying their right to association and expression. In the Kasonkomona case, the government used vagrancylaws to try and deny persons the right to talk freely about LGBTI rights.

In all the above mentioned cases, however, the courts applied human rights norms to the issues raised before them and vindicated the claims that LGBTI persons are deserving of human rights because they are in the first place, human beings. However, the case of C.O.L. & G.M.N.,[6] where the Kenyan Court upheld the constitutionality of the law compelling anal examinations in order to prove homosexual behaviour, indicates that there is a great deal that has to be done to secure enjoyment of rights of all persons including decriminalization of sexual conduct involving non-heterosexual intimacy, and also recognition of gender diversity.  The victories in these cases are significant as they are beacons of light in the midst of pervasive discrimination against LGBTI persons. The positive judgments refresh the obligations of governments to be faithful to their own constitutions to respect the fundamental values of human dignity and equality of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. This negative judgement, though, calls for vigilance to realise human rights for everyone.

[1]  Thuto Rammoge & 19 Others v. The Attorney General of Botswana  [2014] MAHGB-000175-13  (Botswana, High Court). [Homosexual rights advocacy society received official recognition.]   Decision online.   Short abstract by Michelle HaymanCase summary for Legal Grounds III.

[2] Attorney General of Botswana v. Thuto Rammoge & 19 Others  [2016] CACGB-128-14 (Botswana, Court of Appeal at Gaborone).  [Appeal dismissed]   Decision onlineCase summary for Legal Grounds III.

[3] Eric Gitari v. Non-Governmental Organizations Co-Ordination Board & 4 Others, [2015] eKLR, Petition No. 440 of 2013  (Kenya, High Court at Nairobi).  [LGBT organizations can be registered.]  Decision online.   Case summary and analysis for Legal Grounds III.

[4] Republic v. Non-Governmental Organizations Co-ordination Board & another ex-parte Transgender Education and Advocacy & 3 Others [2014] eKLR, JR Miscellaneous Application No. 308a of 2013 (Kenya, High Court). [Transgender organization can be registered].   Decision onlineCase summary and analysis for Legal Grounds III.

[5] People v. Paul Kasonkomona [2015] HPA/53/2014  (Zambia, High Court).[Freedom of expression: HIV/LGBT activist acquitted for remarks made on television.]   Decisions and documents onlineCase summary and analysis for Legal Grounds III.

[6]  C.O.L. & G.M.N. v. Resident Magistrate Kwale Court & Others, Petition No. 51 of 2015 (Kenya, High Court –Constitutional and Judicial Review Division).  [Court allowed medical examinations including anal exams to prove crime of homosexuality].  Decision online.   Case summary and analysis for Legal Grounds III.

Compiled by the Coordinator of the International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Program, reprohealth*law at   For Program publications and resources, see our website, online here.     TO JOIN THIS BLOG: enter your email address in upper right corner of this webpage, then check your email to confirm the subscription.

El aborto en el derecho transnacional: casos y controversias

October 27, 2016


por Rebecca J. Cook, Joanna N. Erdman

y Bernard M. Dickens, (editores)
(México, FCE/CIDE 2016).

El debate jurídico y judicial sobre el aborto ha tenido, a lo largo del siglo XX y principios del XXI, importantes revoluciones en su abordaje teórico y práctico, que son expresión de estrategias de sectores sociales, religiosos y políticos que en ocasiones resultan contrapuestas.

Éste es un completo balance dinámico sobre las nuevas transiciones actuales y posibles y los desarrollos jurídicos más significativos a nivel transnacional en el tema del aborto, y da cuenta del nuevo desarrollo conceptual que concibe la idea de que no sólo la sanción penal, sino también la amenaza de la sanción penal, ponen en riesgo derechos fundamentales de las mujeres.

“…. Libro de gran actualidad y de avanzada … los autores tratan el tema del aborto con maestría desde las más variadas vertientes como pobreza, marginación, exclusión social, salud pública, penalización y derechos humanos….es y seguirá siendo lectura obligada para operadores jurídicos, sociólogos, economistas, políticos pero sobre todo para cualquier persona interesada en el tema.”

Olga Sánchez Cordero,  Ministra en retiro de la
Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación (México)

Introducción y Prólogo a la edición en español,  y  Índice General en línea

Tabla de Casos/Jurisprudencia en línea con enlaces a muchas de las decisiones judiciales

De venta en línea y en librerías del Fondo de Cultura Económica.

Oportunidad: Si desea escribir una reseña para alguna revista académica latinoamericana,  por favor escriba a  reprohealth . law @ utoronto . ca para solicitar una copia del libro.


Prólogo a la edición en espanol, por Víctor Abramovitch

Introducción, por Rebecca J. Cook,  Joanna N. Erdman, y Bernard M. Dickens


La constitucionalización del aborto, por Reva B. Siegel

El aborto en Portugal. Nuevas tendencias en el constitucionalismo europeo, por Ruth Rubio Marín   (Próximamente em FGV Direito S.P.)

Los derechos de las mujeres en las sentencias sobre aborto del Tribunal  Constitucional de Eslovaquia, por Adriana Lamačková

El principio de proporcionalidad en el control de constitucionalidad de las normas sobre aborto, por Verónica Undurraga
(Também em português do Brasil)

Un enfoque funcionalista al derecho comparado del aborto, por Rachel Rebouché


El giro procesal: el aborto en el Tribunal Europeo de Derechos Humanos, por Joanna N. Erdman

La lucha contra las normas informales que regulaban el aborto en la Argentina, por Paola Bergallo

El papel de la transparencia en la reforma de leyes y prácticas del aborto en África, por Charles G. Ngwena


El marco de referencia médico y el aborto medicamentoso temprano en el Reino Unido.  ¿Cómo puede un Estado ejercer control sobre la ingesta de una píldora? por Sally Sheldon

El derecho a la conciencia, por Bernard M. Dickens

El sexo, las mujeres, y el inicio de la vida humana en el constitucionalismo católico, por Julieta Lemaitre Ripoll

El aborto en el debate público brasileño. Estrategias jurídicas del embarazo anencefálico, por Luís Roberto Barroso

Nepal, hacia una igualdad transformativa. El fallo Lakshmi Dhikta, por Melissa Upreti


El tratamiento de las narrativas del sufrimiento inocente en el litigio transnacional del aborto, por Lisa M. Kelly

Narrativas sobre la personalidad jurídica del no nacido en la regulación del aborto, por Alejandro Madrazo

Significados estigmatizados del derecho penal sobre el aborto, por Rebecca J. Cook

Tabla de Casos/Jurisprudencia (en línea)

Tabla de legislación, tratados y otros instrumentos internacionales relevantes


Call for Papers on Abortion and Human Rights

June 15, 2016

The Health and Human Rights Journal is calling for papers to be published in a special section in June 2017 on abortion from a human rights perspective. The special section will be edited by Alicia Ely Yamin and Paola Bergallo.  Papers must be submitted by 31 October 2016.
Topics could include:

  • Conceptual and theoretical analysis of the developments on abortion law and human rights in international and constitutional law throughout the world.
  • Socio-legal studies of legal mobilization and counter-mobilization on abortion rights exploring the role of actors such as the women’s and the human rights movement, health providers, conservative and religious groups, legal support structures, and political players. The studies could focus in the dynamics of national, sub-national, regional, transnational or international struggles for and against the right to abortion.
  • The challenges of implementing abortion reforms through high impact litigation, abortion guidelines, or social mobilization strategies such as the hotlines providing access to information on medical abortion or the damage reduction model put forward by physicians.
  • The effects and impacts—for example, in women, groups, public opinion, policies, rules and other contexts—of the different legal strategies for abortion deployed by progressive and conservative movements. The impact of policies criminalizing abortion and other reproductive rights in women’s life and health.
  • A critical examination of the experience and policies of particular countries as they have attempted to expand access to abortion trough legal reforms and health policies.
  • Comparisons of health and legal abortion reforms adopted in different countries of the world. Sub-national comparisons within countries or between sub-national experiences of different countries.

About the Journal: The Health and Human Rights Journal is a peer-reviewed, open access journal under the editorship of Partners in Health co-founder Paul Farmer. It is published twice yearly by Harvard University Press, with new issues released in June and December. There are no publication fees unless authors can use open access publication grants.

Submission Details:

  • Papers must be submitted by 31 October 2016
  • Papers have a maximum word length of 7,000 words, including references.
  • Author guidelines are available here.
  • Editorial style guide is online here.

Questions about this special section on “Abortion and Human Rights”  can be directed to: Alicia Ely Yamin (, Paola Bergallo ( or Carmel Williams, Executive Editor, Health and Human Rights Journal (

Peru: Rights-based Governance of Reproductive Health Services

May 12, 2016

Congratulations to Jeannie Samuel, Ph.D., who recently defended her doctoral thesis at the University of Toronto, Canada.

Struggling With the State: Rights-Based Governance of Reproductive Health Services in Puno, Peru by Jeannie Samuel, Ph.D. dissertation, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Canada, 2015.

This dissertation explores the complex process of how socially excluded women carry out rights-based governance in state-operated health facilities. It addresses a central tension: how can marginalized actors exercise a governance influence over institutions that have systemically excluded them? The study examines the efforts of a group of Quechua-speaking indigenous women in the southern Peruvian Andes who act as citizen monitors of their reproductive health services. In a country where profound inequalities are embedded in the health care system, the monitors (aided by a network of strategic allies) seek to combat abuse and strengthen health service provision. Key to their governance strategy is the use of a human rights-based approach to health, intended to influence monitors’ power by repositioning them as rights holders.

Theoretically, the dissertation draws on feminist political economy to examine the emergence of reproductive health care as a site of struggle between civil society and the state in Puno, Peru since the 1990s. It examines the monitoring initiative in Puno as an example of ongoing struggles with the state for the provision of quality reproductive health care. Methodologically, it uses institutional ethnography to link the work of citizen monitors with broader social, political and economic forces that shape their governance efforts.

The study’s findings suggest that human rights-based approaches can help monitors to exercise power in governance struggles. Citizen monitoring in Puno has produced some important gains, including curbing everyday injustices such as discriminatory treatment and illegal fees in health facilities. Monitors have been less effective at influencing other types of systemic problems, such as understaffing. The initiative has created opportunities for hands-on learning and the creation of new kinds of alliances. More broadly, the study suggests that rights-based governance can contribute to the democratization of reproductive health service delivery and the promotion of inclusive citizenship.


Abstracts of theses by Graduates of our International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Program are online here.