Sexual & Reproductive Health Rights

Authored by Krishna M. Karun, law student from Government Law College Ernkulam

More than 200 million women doesn’t have access to modern contraception around the world, around 1.8 million people are suffering with HIV infection and more than 3 50,000,000 people require treatment for STIs[1]. SRHR is one of the important element of the universal right as highest attainable standard of physical and mental health as included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It should be noted that SRHR must be met for both men and women.

The history of sexual and reproductive health rights can be traced from population control to human rights, from couples’ rights to universal rights and so on. Sexual and reproductive health rights in its meaning include being able to make a choice about one’s own body, to get proper information about sexual health, to get access to sexual and reproductive health services. It also incorporate a person’s right to decide if he or she wants to have children or not.

For the attainment of ultimate well being of humanity addressing these and other sexual and reproductive health issues is fundamental to people’s survival and thereby to advancing economic development[2]. Sexual and reproductive health rights also mean our lives should be free from all forms of sexual violence, including rape, female genital mutilation, forced pregnancy, forced abortion or forced sterilization.

Considering all the previous definitions Guttmarcher- Lancet Commission define SRH in a new way – A state of physical, emotional, mental, and social wellbeing in relation to all aspects of sexuality and reproduction, not merely  the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.

Sexual Reproductive Health Rights and Educations

The relation of education and sexual and Reproductive health rights should be noted. Health Surveys in many countries explained the interconnection of the both. Sexual health education has helped girls’ schooling, gender right goals, sexual education etc as mentioned in the Beijing declaration.

When referring to the importance of education and sexual reproductive health rights it is relevant to note the efforts of NGOs while the private educational sectors are profit oriented. The NGOs play significant role in helping communities to engage with sexual reproductive health education through primary schools and health sectors by conducting counselling and awareness programs.

Sexual Reproductive Health Rights in India

Indian approach to sexual reproductive health rights has focused on population control than considering the human rights aspect of SRHR. India is one of the world’s first nations to launch a family planning program and one among the first countries to legislate on abortion and legalise conditional abortion. But still women continued to experience restrictions to the enjoyment of reproductive rights which included poor quality of health services. With the enactment of medical termination of pregnancy act, abortions are permissible in India. There is a general lack of awareness among people about the legal services that exist in India to help them achieve SRHR.

Case Laws on SRHR

There are many landmark judgments on human rights that have to be quoted under the topic sexual reproductive health rights. One among them is the judgment of Delhi High Court in Laxmi Mandal vs Deen Dayal HariNagar Hospital & Ors[3] concerning denials of maternal healthcare to women below poverty line.  The court stated that the petition focused on inalienable survival rights that is a part of right to life, which is right to health and in particular reproductive rights of the mother.

Sandesh bansal vs Union of India[4] relied upon the above mentioned Delhi High Court judgement and noted that, the inability of women to survive pregnancy and child birth violates her fundamental right to live as guaranteed under article 21 of the Indian constitution.

By dismissing the suit filed by a husband against a doctor who performed abortion without husbands consent The High Court of Punjab and Haryana stated that it is a personal right of a women to give birth to a child and no person can interfere in such personal decision of a woman to abort her pregnancy. Supreme Court clarified that abortion at 24 weeks is legal, which is a fatal impairment that can endangers the pregnant women’s life[5].

There are many cases referring to child marriages in Indian courts. The decisions of Delhi High Court in 2010 and 2012 found that child marriage is in violation of girls’ fundamental rights.

The Bombay High Court ruled to improve women prisoners’ access to abortion affirmed women’s rights to abortion as an aspect of the fundamental right to live with dignity under Article 21. The judgment recognized that an unborn foetus is not an entity with human rights. The pregnancy takes place within the body of a woman and has profound effects on her health, mental well-being and life. Thus decision about pregnancy is for the woman to make. The right to control their own body and fertility and motherhood choices should be left to the women alone. Let us not lose sight of the basic right of women: the right to autonomy and to decide what to do with their own bodies, including whether or not to get pregnant and stay pregnant[6].


[1] https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2018/09/time-lead-roadmap-progress-sexual-and-reproductive-health-and-rights-worldwide#

[2] https://www.amnestyusa.org/pdfs/SexualReproductiveRightsFactSheet.pdf

[3] W.P.(C) No. 8853 of 2008

[4] W.P.No.9061 of 2008

[5] 3 Meera Santosh Pal & Others V. Union of India & Others., (2017) W.P. (C) No. 17

[6] https://reproductiverights.org/sites/default/files/documents/Reproductive-Rights-In-Indian-Courts.pdf

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