Reproductive Rights



“Reproductive rights” (RR) is a highly problematic term that is often used to promote abortion and is now also being used to promote reproductive arrangements for same-sex couples.


Although “reproductive rights” was intentionally excluded from the MDGs, it unfortunately was included in the SDGs (target 5.6), largely because unsuspecting governments believed that if they modified “reproductive rights” with the phrase “in accordance with” ICPD and Beijing and “the outcome documents of their review conferences” it somehow would prevent controversial interpretations.


They couldn’t be more wrong. This problematic this phrase  opens the door for reproductive rights to encompass abortion and assisted reproduction or surrogacy arrangements for same-sex couples.


As just one example of how UN agencies likely will interpret the term “reproductive rights,” the UNFPA report “ICPD and Human Rights: 20 years of Advancing Reproductive Rights,” lists “restrictive abortion laws” and “illegal abortion” as barriers to “reproductive rights.” UNFPA’s report also identifies laws criminalizing same-sex behavior or HIV transmission as barriers to the fulfillment of “reproductive rights.”


This report alone sends a clear signal that UNFPA will use the reproductive rights SDG target 5.6 to pressure countries to repeal any “restrictive” abortion laws.


However, just because “reproductive rights” is in the SDGs, this does not mean governments should accept it in any new documents, nor do they need to accept controversial definitions of “reproductive rights” that include abortion or LGBT rights. So, unfortunately, the inclusion of “reproductive rights” in the SDGs is sure to open up a Pandora’s box of controversial legal and policy battles related to human reproduction. To protect against this, if delegations are unable to remove “reproductive rights” from documents under negotiation, it would be advisable to issue a standard reservation or statement of explanation similar to the following:


Reproductive Rights Reservation: Any terms related to “sexual and reproductive health” or “reproductive rights” must not be understood to include a right to abortion or to impose a burden on governments to provide access to or to fund abortions or change our laws relating to abortion. In addition, “reproductive rights” should not be understood to imply any rights related to assisted reproduction, reproductive technologies, or the adoption of children.



  1. The term “reproductive rights” has not been accepted in any binding UN treaty or convention because it is often interpreted to mean abortion rights. So many countries have restrictions on abortion (over 190 countries have some legal restriction on abortion) that it is impossible for States to agree on a working definition.

    2. Since 1994 when ICPD was negotiated in Cairo, the meaning of “reproductive rights” has been deliberately expanded by abortion rights activists with the active support of treaty body monitoring committees[1] and UN agencies to now include controversial sexual and abortion rights that were never intended by State parties.[2]


  1. The term “reproductive rights” has been interpreted by UN agencies to encompass LGBT rights. For example, the UNFPA report, “ICPD and Human Rights: 20 Years of Advancing Reproductive Rights,” refers to “sexual orientation” (11 times), “transgender” (six times), “gender identity” (five times), and has multiple references to decriminalizing same-sex behavior and implementing public campaigns to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity—all under the banner of advancing reproductive health rights.


  1. Modifying “reproductive rights” with phrases like “in accordance with” ICPD or Beijing will not prevent the term from being used to promote abortion. This term is already being used to put pressure on countries. “Reproductive rights” either needs to be defined specifically to not include abortion rights, deleted entirely, or replaced with “reproductive health,” although ­reproductive health” is also a problematic term.


  1. The term “reproductive rights” is commonly interpreted to include abortion rights by UN-accredited entities that receive funding to implement UN document provisions.


  • For example, International Planned Parenthood Federation and UN agencies, such as UNFPA and the World Health Organization (WHO), aggressively promote abortion rights under the banner of “reproductive rights.”[3] WHO considers abortion to be a “reproductive right” in their manual, “Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems, Second E[4]


  • As per their report “ICPD and Human Rights: 20 years of Advancing Reproductive Rights,” UNFPA lists “restrictive abortion laws” and “illegal abortion” as barriers to “reproductive rights.” UNFPA’s report also identifies laws criminalizing same-sex behavior or HIV transmission as barriers to the fulfillment of reproductive rights.[5]


  • The American Society for Reproductive Medicine claims that reproductive rights include rights to “assisted reproduction for gay, lesbian and unmarried persons.”[6] Yet these arrangements violate the rights of the child to “know and be cared for by his or her parents” as specified in Article five of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, because children adopted to same-sex couples are usually severed legally from at least one of their biological parents with no choice in the matter whatsoever.


  • What about surrogate pregnancies and other controversial reproductive arrangements or alleged reproductive rights? A doctor in the state of California was fined for refusing to artificially inseminate a lesbian woman. This was considered a violation of her reproductive rights.
  1. A new trend in UN negotiations is to link the “outcome documents” of the “review conferences” of Beijing and/or ICPD to “reproductive rights” in an attempt to limit the definition of “reproductive rights” so it does not include abortion. Ironically, this actually can expand the definition of reproductive rights to include not only a more explicit right to abortion, but also to encompass additional LGBT rights, because some of the “outcome documents” and “review conferences” promote LGBT and abortion rights explicitly.


For example, UNFPA conducted an operational review “ICPD Beyond 2014” that contains more than 500 highly controversial references, including 391 references to “sexual,” 25 references to “sexual orientation,” six references to “prostitution,” four references to “transgender,” 18 references to “comprehensive sexuality education,” 44 references to “sexual and reproductive rights,” and 173 references to “abortion.” Similarly, the ICPD outcome document from the Bali Global Youth Forum review led by UNFPA calls for the legalization of prostitution, same-sex marriage, abortion, the abolishing of parental consent laws, access for youth to abortion and comprehensive sexuality education, LGBT rights, and more.


It is dangerous to endorse or affirm broad categories of documents without specifying each document by name. Moreover, unless it is clarified which specific documents it is referring to, this often-used reference to the “outcome documents” of the “review conferences” of ICPD and Beijing can be dangerously interpreted to include future review outcome documents of Beijing and ICPD that haven’t even been negotiated yet.


[1] The CEDAW Committee has pressured 66 nations, including countries in the following regions: Africa (17), Latin America (20), the Caribbean (4), Asia (13), Europe (4), the Middle East (4), and the Pacific (4), to legalize, remove penalties for, or increase access to abortion.

[2] SeeThe Relentless Push to Create an ‘International Right’ to Abortion,” a policy brief exposing the plan orchestrated by UN Agencies and pro-abortion NGOs to expand the definition of reproductive health and rights, available at fwiPolicyBriefonAbortionandHumanRights_FinalforPublication.pdf.

[3] See IPPF, Charter on Sexual and Reproductive Rights, available at; Center for Reproductive Rights, Reproductive Rights: A Tool for Monitoring State Obligations, available: documents/crr_Monitoring_Tool_State_Obligations.pdf.

[4] Available at

[5] Available at

[6] See American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Gay, Lesbian, and Unmarried Persons Reproductive Rights,