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Defining and Delineating the Right to Reproductive Choice

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While the notion of a prescribed set of `reproductive rights' has been advanced in various contexts, particularly in the agendas for action adopted at the United Nations conferences held in Cairo (1994) and Beijing (1995), these rights as a group remain controversial. This can be partly explained by their poor definition and often tenuous legal grounding, opening the door to easy criticism. Clarification of the essential content and scope of protection offered under existing international human rights law would be helpful. In this article, the definition of reproductive rights in the Beijing Platform for Action is critically scrutinized, leading to the conclusion that only four of the so-called `reproductive rights' are provided in existing international human rights instruments. These four may be seen as forming a bundle of inseparable rights which the author refers to as the composite right to reproductive choice. The special conflict which can arise between two members of a couple who, while bearing equal rights to reproductive choice, may hold differing views and have opposing desires regarding reproduction is also examined, specifically in relation to the role of the State in resolving the potential for the violation of one individual's right to reproductive choice by another individual.

Affiliations: 1: Independent Consultant on Population and Reproductive Issues, The Hague; President, The Themis Foundations, Inc.


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