Right to sexual and reproductive health indivisible from other human rights

The right to sexual and reproductive health is not only an integral part of the general right to health but fundamentally linked to the enjoyment of many other human rights, including the rights to education, work and equality, as well as the rights to life, privacy and freedom from torture, and individual autonomy, according to an authoritative commentary adopted by CESCR’s 18 independent members (General Comment No.22, on the right to the highest attainable standard of health).

The Comment said: “For example, lack of emergency obstetric care services or denial of abortion often lead to maternal mortality and morbidity, which in turn constitutes a violation of the right to life or security, and in certain circumstances, can amount to torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

It details the obligations of States regarding sexual and reproductive health, including:

  • An obligation to repeal, eliminate laws, policies and practices that criminalise, obstruct or undermine an individual’s or a particular group’s access to health facilities, services, goods and information;
  • An obligation to ensure universal access to quality sexual and reproductive health care, including maternal health care, contraceptive information and services, safe abortion care; prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infertility, reproductive cancers, sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS.

“Even in one country, there are wide differences, between different generations, between urban centres and rural areas, differences between men and women, so you cannot say there is always one position, and even culture changes over time,” said Ms Heisoo Shin. “The ultimate goal should be what is best for people to enjoy the right to sexual and reproductive health.”