Reproductive Health as a Human Right

43 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2011

See all articles by Lance Gable

Lance Gable

Wayne State University Law School

Date Written: June 16, 2011


The human rights paradigm provides an important perspective on the relationship between reproduction and health as well as an essential tool for ensuring that reproductive health is achieved and reproductive rights are protected. Indeed, this relationship can be characterized as creating a discrete human right to reproductive health. International human rights law does not carve out an explicit right to reproductive health, but different aspects of this right can be assembled from the foundation of numerous human rights principles as applied to reproductive health.

This article explores the many ways that reproductive health can be perceived as a human right. The human right to reproductive health arises in part from the complex, interwoven relationship between reproductive rights and the right to health. Reproductive health can be framed as a human right based upon its centrality to human functioning, its contribution to overall human health, its interconnectedness with numerous human rights, or its relationship with social factors involving sexuality, gender, and power.

The right to reproductive health should be recognized as a distinct human right and not merely as a subcomponent of the right to health or as one of several rights included within a generalized collection of reproductive rights. While reproductive health rights do indeed exist at the intersection of discourses about reproductive rights, the right to health, and other human rights, conceptualizing reproductive health as a human right acknowledges the fundamental importance of reproductive health in achieving overall health. Likewise, reproductive health rights interact with and influence the attainment of many other human rights. Framed as a distinct human right, the right to reproductive health grants individuals a specific claim to all of the aspects of this right and obligates states to respect, protect, and fulfill this right. Recognition of a broad and nuanced understanding of the right to reproductive health within human rights frameworks would significantly bolster reproductive health outcomes and the rights of women and men to make reproductive decisions.

The approach adopted in this article diverges in focus to some extent from much of the existing commentary on reproductive rights, which often centers on rights protecting reproductive decisional autonomy and gives less consideration to issues of reproductive health. By presenting a contrasting model that primarily focuses on reproductive health, this article highlights the specific human rights aspects of reproductive health, assesses the effect of reproductive health on human rights as well as the effect of human rights on reproductive health, and substantiates the claim that reproductive health is a human right.

Suggested Citation

Gable, Lance, Reproductive Health as a Human Right (June 16, 2011). Wayne State University Law School Research Paper No. 10-20, Available at SSRN: or

Lance Gable (Contact Author)

Wayne State University Law School ( email )

471 Palmer
Detroit, MI 48202
United States

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