The Special Rapporteur for Health, Anand Grover, presented his report to delegates of the UN Third Committee linking unrestricted abortion with the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. He adamantly affirmed his intention to redefine the “right to health” in UN conventions and treaties to include abortion.
The delegate from Swaziland questioned why the Special Rapporteur neglected his mandate by reporting only on reproductive health while ignoring a myriad of other health concerns such as hunger and disease. She criticized the notion that the Special Rapporteur would include a “non-existent” right to abortion within the right to health. The Holy See delegate insisted there is no right to abortion in international law, and that the Special Rapporteur failed to consider conventions that “safeguard the inherent worth and dignity of the person both born and unborn.”
The Egypt government challenged the Special Rapporteur’s “systematic attempts to reinterpret internationally agreed conventions” in order to redefine the right to health according to his own interpretations. In particular, the Egyptian spokesman was concerned by the way Mr. Grover stepped beyond his mandate in order to give “new perspectives” on the right to health in relation to child and maternal mortality.
The Chilean government emphasized that it is essential to recognize the right to life of all human beings. Its statement was of special interest given the country’s history with legalized abortion. Abortion was legal in Chile until 1989. After its criminalization, maternal mortality decreased.
Chile’s experience calls into question the very foundation of the Special Rapporteur’s report. It contradicts the claim that maternal mortality is higher in states where abortion is criminalized. In Guyana, where abortion has been legal without restriction since 1995, the maternal mortality rate is 30 times higher than in Chile.
Honduras endorsed Chile’s statement. Both countries’ constitutions protect life from the moment of conception. (The delegate from Uganda told observers after the session that she wanted to criticize the report but had lost her voice to illness.)
In response, the Special Rapporteur defiantly disagreed that legalized abortion fell anywhere outside his mandate, arguing that the death of “44,000” women a year from illegal abortions was directly linked to the right to health. This number, however, is highly contentious and, according to many experts, is unverifiable and unsubstantiated. Data from the World Health Organization, frequently cited in UN reports, shows that the majority of maternal deaths are the result of hemorrhaging, eclampsia, and infection and are easily addressed by improved health care services, not abortion.
As the final word before the session ended, Grover claimed that since international law is silent on abortion, then there is “no denial of abortion in international law.” Restricting abortion, he asserted, dehumanizes, stigmatizes and lowers the dignity of people. Countries should not only decriminalize abortion but “put services in place” to provide it.