Reproductive Rights & The Inter-American System: Fieldwork Report

In the Inter-American region, and in many other parts of the world, women’s reproductive rights are under attack. Just last month a ten-year old Paraguayan girl was denied an abortion after she was raped by her stepfather and subsequently became pregnant. In 2013, Beatriz was denied an abortion in El Salvador, despite carrying an anencephalic fetus and also suffering from lupus. In Costa Rica, AN and “Aurora” were denied therapeutic abortion procedures after learning their fetuses would not be viable outside of the womb. And, in 2002, a Chilean woman with HIV was sterilized without her knowledge after giving birth to her son. These examples represent some of the most extreme women’s reproductive rights violations in Latin America, where draconian laws reinforce and perpetuate discrimination and violence against women. In response to violations such as the examples noted above, international human rights treaty monitoring bodies have increasingly proven to be forums for the advancement of women’s reproductive rights. One such entity, the Inter-American System of Human Rights, has issued recommendations and judgements on cases involving violations such as forced sterilization, denial of abortion in the case of rape, and prohibition of in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures.
In the summer of 2014, fieldwork research was conducted as part of a doctoral thesis entitled, “Strengthening Women’s Reproductive Rights in the Inter-American Human Rights System: Gender, Reparations and Reproductive Justice.” Upon completion of interviews with actors engaged in work on reproductive rights in the Inter-American System, a report entitled, “Women’s Reproductive Rights in the Inter-American System of Human Rights: Conclusions from the Field, June-September 2014,” was distributed to interview participants. The objectives of the report were (1) to examine the María Mamerita Mestanza Chávez v. Peru (2003), Paulina del Carmen Jacinto Ramírez v. Mexico (2007), and Artavia Murillo et al. v. Costa Rica (2012) cases, in order to understand how reproductive rights cases develop, and the subsequent challenges and advancements; (2) and to learn from these cases in order to suggest recommendations for how actors can make better use of the Inter-American System as one of several avenues for fulfilling women’s reproductive rights.  The report identifies three main challenges to the implementation and enjoyment of women’s reproductive rights: (1) limited understanding and institutionalization of ‘gender’; (2) ineffective or nonexistent collaboration between actors; and (3) inadequate development, implementation, and compliance-monitoring of reparation measures. The report also recommends strategies in order to achieve a more efficient Inter-American System when dealing with reproductive rights: (1) creating a tradition of gender-based reparations; (2) using the Convention of Belém do Pará consistently and constantly in litigation efforts; and (3) institutionalizing gender training in the Inter-American System.

As human rights law is increasingly utilized as a tool in the advancement of women’s reproductive rights, it is essential for actors to engage in every opportunity to reflect on advancements and missed opportunities. The intention of this report is to play a small role in that process of reflection.

Report in both English and Spanish. The author welcomes any questions, comments, and additional information @ c.o-connell [at]

Image credit: Cristy C. Road