Reproductive Autonomy is a Human Right

During the month of June, I was given the wonderful opportunity to attend the Guanajuato Summer Law Institute in Mexico where I took two classes at the Universidad de Guanajuato. I took Comparative Equality and Human Rights and International and Comparative Family Law. Both classes were very interesting. One of the big topics in both classes was reproductive autonomy. As soon as I landed back in the US, I was shocked to see the recent Hobby Lobby decision. Although the US is a few steps ahead of other countries, this decision is a huge step backwards especially for Native women and working class women. Contraceptives are not easily accessible and affordable as the media portrays. Often times women experience times when they cannot afford contraceptives. Contraceptives can cost anywhere from $400 to $1200 a year. I surely cannot afford that on my law school financial aid!

US case law has evolved over the past few decades to ensure reproductive autonomy. Reproductive autonomy in the US focuses on the right of privacy. In Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925) and Meyer v. Nebraska (1923), SCOTUS ruled that 14th Amendment provides parents the right to make decisions about raising children. In Skinner v. Oklahoma (1942), SCOTUS found that there is a fundamental right to procreate. In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), SCOTUS ruled the right of a married couple to privacy is protected by the Constitution. In Eisenstadt v. Bair (1972), SCOTUS ruled that it is the right of an individual to decide whether or not to have children. In Roe v. Wade (1973), SCOTUS ruled that a woman has the right to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. These pivotal cases have helped frame reproductive autonomy as a human right for all in the US.

However, Indigenous Peoples all over the world continue to suffer from violations of their reproductive rights. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted in 1979 and is a core international human rights instrument. It has been ratified by 187 member states as of May 2012. The primary goal of the CEDAW is to prevent and eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. However, Indigenous women are not mention in the CEDAW. Women are mentioned in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The UNDRIP is a declaration that contains an agreement among countries on how Indigenous Peoples should be treated. The UNDRIP sets out how countries and their governments should respect human rights of Indigenous Peoples. The important topics of the UNDRIP are 1) the right to self-determination; 2) the right to be recognized as distinct peoples; 3) the right to free, prior and informed consent; and 4) the right to be free of discrimination.

The pivotal sections of the UNDRIP pertaining Indigenous reproductive rights are the right to self-determination and the right to free, prior and informed consent. The right to self-determination is fundamental to Indigenous Peoples. The right to self-determination generally means that Indigenous Peoples have the right to decide what is best for them and their communities. For example, tribal governments can make their own decisions on issues like healthcare and environment and carry out programs as they see fit. Additionally, the right to free, prior and informed consent is critical for Indigenous Peoples. Free, prior and informed consent means that Indigenous Peoples have the right to be consulted and make decisions on any matter that may affect their communities. For example, Indigenous People have the right to be consulted and educated when polluting industries that could impact reproductive health are introduced into their communities.

The political evolution of tribes in the US and the cycles of poverty impacts lack of access to sexual health education which ultimately violates reproductive rights. There have been some efforts made particularly in the US, but there is still a great need throughout the world. Indigenous Peoples have the right to learn about their bodies and reproductive systems, so they can exercise self-determination to decide what is best for them. Reproductive autonomy is a human right, and women’s reproductive decisions are not for employers to make.

♥ Miss Nikke