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  • The Right to Reproductive Choice: A Study in International Law
  • Maarit Kohonen (bio)
The Right to Reproductive Choice: A Study in International Law, Corinne A. A. Packer (Turku, Finland: Abo Arkademi University Institute for Human Rights, 1996), 213 pp.

The Right to Reproductive Choice purports to place the right to reproductive choice, a highly topical and controversial issue, within a framework of international law in order to demonstrate that international human rights law belongs to people. The author convinces the reader that, under existing instruments of international law, states have entered into very specific obligations to protect the right to reproductive choice as a human right, which, if effectively implemented, paves the way for full, healthy, and productive lives for women and men.

The legalistic approach to the subject matter is livened up by adding an interesting angle to the study as the author explores challenges to the right to reproductive choice in the form of population policies, sustainable development, cultural and religious norms, medically-assisted reproduction, and abortion. It is refreshing to discover Corinne Packer as a newcomer in the debate surrounding women’s human rights, reproductive rights and choice, acting as a stimulus for a long-standing academic dialogue among experts in the field and adding to the richness of the argument.

At the outset of her book, the author does not shy away from tackling critically the thorny issue of defining the right to reproductive choice as a composite right based on the human rights to found a family, to decide freely on the number and spacing of children, to have family planning information, and to have access to family planning services. On the basis of this definition and in order to identify the scope of the right and the consequent obligations by the state vis-à-vis “the right to reproductive choice as a private matter publicly protected,” 1 the book thoroughly discusses the legal sources of those human rights comprising the right to reproductive choice.

It is, however, the chapter that attempts to establish the parameters of protection of the right to reproductive choice by defining the scope of state obligations under human rights law, that provides for the most thought-provoking reading. The author critically assesses existing literature on controversial matters, such as the determination of the number and spacing of children, the implications of sex determination technologies, methods of medically assisted reproduction, and abortion, whilst at the same time clearly arguing her own position.

In connection with the scope of the right to found a family and the right to the benefits of science for the ability to procreate, Corinne Packer strongly rejects the proposition put forward by many North American experts that the state has a duty to assist in artificial procreation. Furthermore, the author, rather controversially, argues that “it [End Page 455] seems correct to conclude that international human rights law does not generally include abortion among the means to enable individuals to exercise reproductive choice.” 2

Building upon state obligations, the weaknesses and strengths of international human rights instruments and mechanisms, both conventional and extra-conventional, available for monitoring and implementing the right to reproductive choice, are also examined. Despite a thorough analysis of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (Women’s Convention), its applicability to the issue at hand, and a comprehensive section on reservations to the Convention, the reader is left with a dissatisfied feeling. This disappointment is by no means caused by the quality of the analysis but rather by the realization that international human rights law so inadequately provides for the realities of our time with a view to protecting the human rights of women and to eliminating gender-specific violence against women. The author quite correctly states that “the law, for the most part, has not followed technology in its pace of advance.” 3

In particular, however, the author submits that existing literature erroneously and excessively focuses on nonbinding international documents, such as declarations. While it is true that such texts are not sources of law per se nor do they secure protection by law, they must be taken as indications of progressive development of international law—especially...

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pp. 455-457
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