Center for Reproductive Rights Pushes Abortion on African Nations in New Paper

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 26, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Center for Reproductive Rights Pushes Abortion on African Nations in New Paper

by Piero A. Tozzi, J.D.
February 26, 2010 Note: Piero Tozzi, J.D. writes for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. This article originally appeared in the pro-life group’s Friday Fax publication.

Washington, DC ( — The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), a New York-based public interest law firm that seeks to expand abortion access globally, has issued a primer on "reproductive and sexual rights" jurisprudence in Africa, including abortion. Its launch comes at a time when largely western groups are increasing pressure on African nations to liberalize abortion laws.

The paper "Legal Grounds: Reproductive and Sexual Rights in African Commonwealth Courts, Volume II" surveys a number of "reproductive rights" issues in countries that inherited a common-law legal system, and includes a chapter on "Abortion and Fetal Interests."

It is intended as a tool for "women’s rights advocates who seek to develop and strengthen litigation strategies at the national level."

While acknowledging that Africa as a region contains "some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world," CRR contends that there is "a growing trend towards liberalization of national laws," pointing to Africa’s Maputo Protocol as evidence of a continental shift.

The protocol is the only regional or international convention "to explicitly articulate the right to abortion" in certain circumstances. A number of nations that signed the document, such as Kenya and Uganda, have thus far refused to ratify it, however, in part due to concerns that the abortion provisions conflict with national laws and constitutions and over questions on how the protocol was negotiated.

CRR links legal developments in Africa with its global efforts to develop a "soft law" jurisprudence in favor of abortion rights, citing non-binding pronouncements by the committee overseeing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women as well as the Human Rights Committee, which monitors the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Among other things, CRR and these treaty compliance committees claim that restrictive abortion laws violate women’s rights to privacy, non-discrimination and self-determination "guaranteed by both regional and international law."

The three cases cited in the CRR report are not as broad as this. One from South Africa and one from Kenya involve judicial interpretations of common law and statutory definitions of murder, whereby courts declined to expand the legal definition of the term to include death of the unborn.

In a second highlighted South African case, Stewart v. Botha, the court dismissed a "wrongful life" claim by parents of a severely disabled child who had sued doctors for failing to inform them of congenital defects which, had they known about them, would have led them to abort the child.

Although abortion is legal in South Africa, allowing such a cause of action would violate the constitution’s right-to-life provision, insofar as "it would proclaim that … life is worse than the possibility of non-existence." In CRR’s analysis, this demonstrates "a judicial reluctance to take on the complexities of a wrongful life claim."

CRR’s effort comes at a time when African nations such as Nigeria and Kenya have been considering constitutional revisions, with pro-lifers circulating language in both countries that would protect life from conception, which abortion advocates such as International Planned Parenthood Foundation have sought to counter.

The "reproductive and sexual rights" primer was unveiled at the 4th African Conference on Sexual Health and Rights, held recently in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as reported in the Friday Fax last week.

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