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  • Inscribing Abortion as a Human Right:Significance of the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa
  • Charles G. Ngwena* (bio)
  1. I. Introduction..................................................................................... 784

  2. II. Visibility of Abortion Rights in UN Treaty Jurisprudence.................. 787

  3. III. Visibility of Abortion Rights in Other Regional Human Rights Instruments............................................................................ 797

    1. A. European Convention on Human Rights...................................... 798

    2. B. Inter-American System................................................................. 808

  4. IV. Significance and Normative Import of Article 14(2)(C) of the Protocol on the Rights of Women In Africa................................ 810

    1. A. Giving Abortion Rights an Enumerated Status at a Regional Level............................................................................. 810

    2. B. Taking Consensus on Unsafe Abortion Forward........................... 814

    3. C. Giving Human Rights Legitimacy to Liberalization of Abortions as an Instrument for Combating Unsafe Abortion........ 818

    4. D. Reforming African Abortion Laws and Practice............................ 827

      1. 1. Historical backdrop................................................................. 828

      2. 2. Kenya: a colonial time-warp................................................... 832

      3. 3. Zimbabwean abortion law: retrogressive abortion law reform............................................................................. 835 [End Page 783]

      4. 4. Mozambique: progressive but piecemeal reform.................... 837

      5. 5. South Africa: progressive reform............................................. 842

      6. 6. Protocol's abortion vision....................................................... 843

      7. 7. Contradictory reproductive rights philosophy........................ 843

      8. 8. Authorizing medical abortions................................................ 847

      9. 9. Sexual assault, rape and incest grounds................................ 847

      10. 10. Endangering the woman's mental and physical health ground...................................................................... 848

      11. 11. Endangering the woman's life ground................................. 850

      12. 12. Endangering fetal life ground.............................................. 851

  5. V. Advancing the Protocol's Abortion Project....................................... 852

    1. A. Supplanting a Crime and Punishment Model with a Human Rights Model................................................................... 852

    2. B. Direct Enforceability.................................................................... 856

    3. C. Margin of Appreciation................................................................ 860

  6. VI. Conclusion ...................................................................................... 863

I. Introduction

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Protocol)1 is primarily the initiative of civil society.2 Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working to promote women's agency in Africa, with the strong backing of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, were pivotal in making a case for the Protocol as well as in galvanizing momentum towards its adoption.3 The Protocol, was adopted at Maputo by the African Union in 2003, pursuant [End Page 784] to Article 66 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (African Charter).4 Admittedly, the Protocol is not without shortcomings or above criticism.5 At the same time, its gender focus has been welcomed as an important supplement to the African Charter, and a significant step forward in the advancement of women's human rights on the African continent.6 Indeed, some commentators have lauded the Protocol, describing it as standard-setting, innovative, and even radical,7 not least because in certain areas it charts new pathways in conceptualizing women's rights.

Abortion is one of the areas where it would not be misplaced to describe the Protocol as groundbreaking. Article 14(2)(c) of the Protocol provides that states parties shall take all appropriate measures to: "protect the reproductive rights of women by authorising medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus."

This article reflects on the human rights significance of the abortion provisions of the Protocol. It considers the significance of Article 14(2)(c) against a historical backdrop of the criminalization of abortion and explores the normative implications of Article 14 in terms of the duties that it imposes on states parties and the individual rights that it founds. It is submitted that the implications of the Protocol are multiple. In the main, they lie in giving abortion rights an enumerated status at a regional level, furthering the consensus on combating unsafe abortion as a major public peril, promoting the legitimacy of liberalizing abortion laws, and providing an impetus for the reform of African abortion law and practice.

If fully realized within the broader context and objects of a treaty whose singular focus is the advancement of women's rights in the African region, [End Page 785] and, to this end, seeks to respect and promote the reproductive health of women, Article 14 has the potential to contribute towards transforming the underlying premises of African abortion laws from a crime and punishment paradigm to a reproductive health paradigm. It is a transformation that resonates with the elimination of discrimination...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1085-794X
Print ISSN
0275-0392
Pages
pp. 783-864
Launched on MUSE
2010-11-24
Open Access
No
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