Plaintiff, the Eternal World TV Network—a Catholic network with 350 employees—was required to provide health insurance for its employees, which would include coverage for contraceptives, under the Affordable Care Act. Plaintiff contended that using or providing contraceptives violated a deeply-held tenant of its belief system and that the accommodation provided to religious nonprofit organizations under the Affordable Care Act still amounted to government coercion to change its beliefs. Plaintiff brought suit against the federal government, claiming that the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protects religious groups. The Eleventh Circuit found that the accommodation did not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because, despite the plaintiff’s right to strict scrutiny review, the accommodation did not substantially burden the exercise of religious tenants and was the least restrictive method of furthering the compelling interest of reducing the rate of unplanned pregnancies. Plaintiff also argued that the accommodation violated the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the United States Constitution, which the court denied, reasoning that the contraceptive mandate was generally applicable: it did not target specifically religious groups or particular denominations.
Women and Justice: Keywords
In 2004, the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal or “STF”) considered a claim brought by the National Trade Union of Health Workers and ANIS (Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights, and Gender) to determine whether terminating a pregnancy in which the fetus suffers from anencephaly (absence of major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp) violates the prohibition on abortion as set forth in Brazil’s Penal Code. On April 12, 2012, the STF rendered an 8-2 decision (with one abstention) that abortion in the circumstance of anencephaly is not a criminal act under the Penal Code. The majority extended a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy to cases of anecephalic fetuses because the fetus does not have the potential for a viable life outside of the womb, and to force a woman to carry such a pregnancy to term is akin to torture. Justice Marco Aurelio and the majority held that to interpret the Penal Code to prohibit such abortion would violate a woman’s constitutional guarantees of human dignity, autonomy, privacy, and the right to health. A woman therefore may seek and receive treatment to terminate the anencephalic pregnancy without risk of criminal prosecution and without judicial involvement.
A married couple was unable to conceive child naturally. They underwent in-vitro fertilization in Israel for purposes of implanting the fertilized ova in a surrogate mother in the United States. Before the ova could be implanted in a surrogate mother, however, the husband left the wife. The wife applied to the Israeli hospital for release of the fertilized ova, intending to move forward with the surrogacy plan in the United States. The husband opposed the release of the ova. The court held that the husband was estopped from opposing the surrogacy procedure, because he had consented to it and the wife reasonably relied on his consent by going through with the fertilization process. In addition, Jewish heritage is a cornerstone of the Israeli legal system, which values the procreation of children. Relatedly, the right to have children under Israeli law is secondary to the desire not to have unwanted children.
A petition to require consent from the woman’s husband in a law in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal allowing women to have an abortion on fetuses of less than 12 weeks cited CEDAW conventions mandating equality between men and women on matters relating to family planning. The Court dismissed the petition emphasizing that CEDAW is intended to promote and protect women’s rights and to consider the wording of equality in such absolute terms would, in fact, be contrary to this original intent. With this ruling, the Supreme Court of Nepal shows remarkable dedication to protecting and empowering women as the primary goal in interpreting legal conventions on women’s rights.
Citing the prevalence of uterus prolapse in pregnant women in Nepal, the petitioner filed that the government should be responsible for providing infrastructures to support women’s reproductive health under Article 20 of the Interim Constitution of Nepal which guarantees the right to reproductive health for all women. The Court ruled that reproductive health was a right tied to all other basic human rights but that, unlike freedom of speech and others, it requires positive infrastructures to be upheld, therefore ordering that a bill be passed providing reproductive health services to pregnant women. In this ruling the Court emphasized that proactive measures must be taken to ensure that women, who face different societal and health challenges, are given the same rights as men; this marks an important distinction between guaranteeing rights and practicing equality.
C. was a 13 year-old girl who became pregnant as a result of rape allegedly by a family friend and was now in State care. The health board sought a court order to allow her to travel outside the State to obtain an abortion because abortion was illegal in Ireland except where the pregnancy formed a real and substantial risk to the woman's life. The Court granted the health board's order permitting C. to travel outside the State to obtain an abortion. The Court based its decision on the fact that the girl's risk of suicide presented a real and substantial risk to her life, entitling her to an abortion within Ireland as well.
X was a 14 year-old girl who became pregnant and suicidal after being raped. Her parents tried to take her to England in order to obtain a first-trimester abortion that was illegal in Ireland but the Attorney General obtained an interim injunction from the High Court restraining the girl and her parents from leaving the country for a period of nine months or from arranging an abortion for her. The family appealed. The Supreme Court held that the Constitution's prohibition on abortion did not prevent a suicidal 14 year-old, pregnant as the result of rape, from obtaining an abortion in Ireland, because the suicide was a substantial risk to the life of the pregnant girl. The Court also struck down the injunction prohibiting the girl from leaving the country.
Therapeutic abortion in cases of rape, incest, and to save the health and life of the woman. The Court reaffirmed that a ban on abortion in all instances would an unconstitutional violation of women's fundamental rights.
The Court ordered defendant, a health-care provider, to provide a mentally and physically-disabled woman with an abortion after she became pregnant from nonconsensual sexual intercourse. The Court held that because of her mental disability, the woman's parents could request the abortion, despite the fact that the woman was 24-years old. The Court also held that the rape need not have been reported to the authorities, as was argued by the defendant.
The Court ruled that a complete ban on abortion was unconstitutional and legalized abortion in cases of incest, danger to the health of the mother, and rape, involuntary insemination, serious deformity to the fetus, or when the mother is under the age of 14. In instances of deformity to the fetus or danger to the mother, the Court required that medical evidence be provided. The Court relies on its obligations in international law to protect women's rights to health and life, among others.
Plaintiff sought an order requiring a hospital to perform a tubal litigation on her after she delivered her fourth child. Plaintiff lived in poverty and neither she nor her husband was employed. The trial and appellate courts refused to grant the order, but the Supreme Court remanded the case for the lower court, citing the lower court's failure to examine the facts of the case.
La demandante solicitó una orden que requería que un hospital le realizara un litigio tubárico después de que ella dio a luz a su cuarto hijo. La demandante vivía en la pobreza y ni ella ni su esposo estaban empleados. Los tribunales de primera instancia y de apelación se negaron a otorgar la orden, pero el Tribunal Supremo devolvió el caso al tribunal inferior, citando el fallo del tribunal inferior de examinar los hechos del caso.
VDA, on behalf of her daughter LMR, filed a petition alleging violations of LMR’s rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The petition alleged violations of LMR’s right under article 2 (right to protection from state against violations of the rights within the ICCPR), article 3 (right to be free from discrimination), article 7 (to freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment), article 17 (freedom from arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence, or unlawful attacks on honor or reputation), and article 18 (right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion). At the time of the incident, LMR was 20 years old but had permanent mental disability with a mental age between 8 and 10 years old. When LMR’s mother brought her to hospital after LMR complained of pains, she discovered that LMR was raped by her uncle and was 14.5 weeks pregnant. Under section 82.6 of the Argentinean Criminal Code, abortion is legal if the pregnancy is the result of the rape of a mentally impaired woman. LMR filed a police complaint and scheduled an abortion, but the abortion was prevented by an injunction against the hospital. LMR appealed unsuccessfully to the Civil Court. The Supreme Court of Buenos Aires ruled the abortion could take place. However, under pressure from anti-abortion groups, the hospital refused to perform the abortion because her pregnancy was too far advanced. LMR eventually obtained an illegal abortion. Article 2 of the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR creates an obligation for state parties to protect individuals’ rights under the Covenant. The United Nations Human Rights Committee found that court hearings caused LMR’s abortion to be delayed to the point that she required an illegal abortion. The Committee found that although forcing LRM to endure a pregnancy that resulted from rape did not constitute torture under Article 7, it did cause physical and emotional suffering and therefore still constituted a violation of LRM’s rights under Article 7. Article 7 protects individuals from mental as well as physical suffering, and the Committee saw the violation as particularly serious given LRM’s status as a person with a disability. Further, the Committee found that because the decision of whether to proceed with an abortion should only have been made between the patient and her physician, LRM’s right to privacy under Article 17 was violated. Even though the Supreme Court ruled in favor of LRM’s abortion, this litigation process was so prolonged that LRM’s pregnancy had advanced to the stage that her physician would no longer perform the abortion. This fact, the Committee reasoned, amounted to a violation of Article 2, because LRM did not, in fact, have access to an effective remedy (the abortion) and was forced to obtain one illegally. This case contributed to a growing consensus in international law that restricting women’s access to an abortion may be considered torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 7 of the ICCPR. It also demonstrated that obstructing access to legal, elective medical procedures may violate the Covenant. Additionally, it indicated that the Court will analyze the right of a person with a disability under Article 7 in a way which heightens the recognized impact of the violation.
VDA, en nombre de su hija LMR, presentó una petición por violación de los derechos de LMR en virtud del Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos (PIDCP). La petición alegaba violaciones del derecho de LMR en virtud del artículo 2 (derecho a la protección del Estado contra violaciones del derecho en virtud del PIDCP), artículo 3 (derecho a no ser discriminado), artículo 7 (a no ser sometido a torturas u otros actos crueles, inhumanos o trato degradante), el artículo 17 (libertad de interferencia arbitraria con la privacidad, familia, hogar o correspondencia, o ataques ilegales a honor o reputación), y el artículo 18 (derecho a la libertad de pensamiento, conciencia y religión). Al momento del incidente, LMR tenía 20 años de edad, pero tenía una discapacidad mental permanente que la hacía tener una edad mental entre 8 y 10 años. Cuando la madre de LMR la llevó al hospital después de que LMR se quejó de dolores, descubrió que LMR fue violada por su tío y tenía 14.5 semanas de embarazo. Bajo la sección 82.6 del Código Penal Argentino, el aborto es legal si el embarazo es el resultado de la violación de una mujer con discapacidad mental. LMR presentó una denuncia policial y programó un aborto, pero el aborto fue prevenido por una orden judicial contra el hospital. LMR apeló sin éxito al Tribunal Civil.
La Corte Suprema de Buenos Aires determinó que el aborto podría llevarse a cabo. Sin embargo, bajo la presión de los grupos contra el aborto, el hospital se negó a realizar el aborto porque el embarazo estaba muy avanzado. LMR finalmente obtuvo un aborto ilegal. El artículo 2 del Protocolo Facultativo del Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos establece la obligación de los Estados parte de proteger los derechos de las personas en virtud del Pacto. El Comité de Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas determinó que las audiencias judiciales causaron un retraso en el aborto de LMR hasta el punto de que ella requirió un aborto ilegal. El Comité determinó que aunque obligar a LRM a soportar un embarazo que resultó de una violación no constituía una tortura en virtud del Artículo 7, causaba sufrimiento físico y emocional y, por lo tanto, seguía constituyendo una violación de los derechos de LRM en virtud del Artículo 7. El Artículo 7 protege la salud mental de las personas además del sufrimiento físico, y el Comité consideró que la violación era particularmente grave dado el estado de LRM como persona con discapacidad. Además, el Comité determinó que debido a que la decisión de proceder o no con un aborto solo debería haberse realizado entre la paciente y su médico, se violó el derecho a la privacidad de LRM en virtud del Artículo 17. A pesar de que la Corte Suprema falló a favor del aborto de LRM, este proceso de litigio fue tan prolongado que el embarazo de LRM había avanzado a la etapa en que su médico ya no realizaría el aborto. Este hecho, razonó el Comité, equivalía a una violación del artículo 2, porque LRM no tenía, de hecho, acceso a un recurso efectivo (el aborto) y estaba obligada a obtener uno ilegalmente. Este caso contribuyó a un consenso cada vez mayor en el derecho internacional de que restringir el acceso de las mujeres a un aborto puede considerarse tortura o tratos crueles, inhumanos o degradantes en virtud del Artículo 7 del PIDCP. También demostró que obstruir el acceso a procedimientos médicos electivos y legales puede violar el Convenio. Además, el caso indicó que la Corte analizará el derecho de una persona con una discapacidad según el Artículo 7 de una manera que aumenta el impacto reconocido de la violación.
HRC held that Peruvian government violated Article 7 (the right to be free from cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment), Article 17 (the right to privacy) and Article 24 (special protection of the rights of a minor) when it denied 17 year-old the right to a legal therapeutic abortion.
Forced motherhood after rape. A complaint was lodged against Mexico for failing to allow a minor to receive an abortion after she was raped. The complaint alleged the violation of Articles 1, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12, 19, and 25 of the American Convention on Human Rights, Articles 1, 2, 4, 7, and 9 of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women, Article 10 of the Additional Protocol to the American Convention in the Area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Articles 9, 17, and 24 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 3 and 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and Articles 19, 37, and 39 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Mexico and the petitioner reached a friendly settlement under which the government of Baja California would pay the victim's legal and medical expenses, provide her with school and housing expense assistance, medical and psychological services, free public higher education for her child, a computer and a printer, moral damages. The Mexican state also committed itself to increasing awareness and availability of legal termination of pregnancy.
Maternidad forzada tras la violación. Se presentó una queja contra México por no permitir que un menor de edad se hiciera un aborto después de haber sido violada. La denuncia alegó la violación de los artículos 1, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12, 19 y 25 de la Convención Americana sobre Derechos Humanos, los artículos 1, 2, 4, 7 y 9 de la Convención Interamericana sobre la Prevención, sanción y erradicación de la violencia contra la mujer, artículo 10 del Protocolo adicional a la Convención Americana en materia de derechos económicos, sociales y culturales, artículos 9, 17 y 24 del Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos, Artículos 3 y 12 de la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos, artículo 12 de la Convención sobre la eliminación de todas las formas de discriminación contra la mujer y artículos 19, 37 y 39 de la Convención sobre los Derechos del Niño. México y la peticionaria llegaron a un acuerdo amistoso en virtud del cual el gobierno de Baja California pagaría los gastos legales y médicos de la víctima, le proporcionaría asistencia para gastos escolares y de vivienda, servicios médicos y psicológicos, educación superior pública gratuita para su hijo, una computadora e impresora, mas compensacion por daños morales. El estado mexicano también se comprometió a aumentar la conciencia y la disponibilidad de la interrupción legal del embarazo.
Human Rights Watch report describing the situation of women with fistula in Kenya, including the increased risk of stigma and violence and the impact of a health system that fails to properly address the problem of fistula. July 15, 2010. Copyright 2010 Human Rights Watch.
By Margaux J. Hall. 28 Wis. Int'l L.J. 74-107 (2010). Reprinted from Wisconsin International Law Journal, Volume 28. Copyright 2010 Wisconsin International Law Journal.