Reproductive health information and abortion services: standards developed by the European Court of Human Rights

Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2013 Aug;122(2):173-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ijgo.2013.05.002. Epub 2013 Jun 14.


In 3 recent judgments, the European Court of Human Rights addressed the issue of access to abortion and related reproductive health services. In 2 of the judgments, the Court declared that the state violated women's rights by obstructing access to legal health services, including abortion. In so doing, it referred to the state's failure to implement domestic norms on prenatal testing and conscientious objection, and recognized the relevance of international medical guidelines. This illustrates that domestic and international medical standards can serve as critical guidance to human rights courts. In the third case, the Court showed its unwillingness to declare access to abortion a human right per se, which is troubling from the perspective of women's right to health and dignity. The present article outlines the relevance of these cases for the reproductive health profession and argues that medical professional societies can influence human rights courts by developing and enforcing medical standards, not only for the benefit of abortion rights domestically but also for the advancement of women's human rights worldwide.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Abortion, Induced / standards
  • Access to Information / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Adolescent
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Human Rights / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Patient Education as Topic / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Pregnancy
  • Reproductive Health Services / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Reproductive Health Services / standards
  • Societies, Medical / organization & administration
  • Women's Rights / legislation & jurisprudence