Issues in Reproductive Health Law in the Commonwealth You do not have access to this content

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Rebecca J. Cook, Bernard M. Dickins
01 Jan 1986
9781848594128 (PDF)
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  • Introduction

    Since 1977 the Commonwealth Secretariat has provided the meetings of Commonwealth Health Ministers and Commonwealth Law Ministers with surveys of Commonwealth experience regarding reproductive health law. The 1977 meetings received the Report, Three Studies of Abortion Laws in the Commonwealth and the 1983 meetings received an analysis of Emerging Issues in Commonwealth Abortion Laws, 1982. The latter report expanded upon the initial theme of abortion to address contraception, menstrual therapies, health personnel and relevant issues in constitutional and international human rights law.

  • Reproductive Health Risks

    There is an historical sense in which human reproduction can be said to have affected the values of men and the bodies of women. Women's health in itself was not a high priority in the value system of traditional cultures and the laws they created. The duty of women was principally to bear men's children, particularly sons, and to serve as the foundation of families.

  • Contraception

    There is little contention in the modern Commonwealth about the right of individuals in principle to acquire knowledge of means of contraception. Although in some jurisdictions less than two decades have passed since communication of contraceptive knowledge to the unmarried was classified as a crime against morality, family planning services and knowledge of means to avoid unwanted pregnancy are now promoted with few legal limits. Constraints of taste may control means of advertisement of contraceptive services and methods, and explicit commercial advertising for instance on television is rarely found, but restrained public service advertising is being developed to carefully targeted populations.

  • Sterilization

    Voluntary sterilization is an increasingly applied method of fertility control in the Commonwealth, as in the world at large, and may protect more women against pregnancy than any other method of contraception (see below). Despite a history of restrictive laws and, for instance, medical and religious attitudes, voluntary sterilization figures very prominently in many Commonwealth countries' practice of reproduction control, although in many others recourse to permanent surgical contraception is treated with caution by the population of reproductive age, the medical profession and the law.

  • Abortion

    This Chapter of the Report includes reviews of new Commonwealth abortion legislation, and key litigation in the general area. It also discusses new executive observations on relevance of the leading English ruling in the 1938 Bourne case to Commonwealth legislation. In addition, it considers how cases have addressed issues of spousal consent and parental consent, which has tended to be in favour of freeing women's decisions from the control of others.

  • Responses to Infertility

    Artificial means of human reproduction namely artifical insemination, in vitro ("test tube") fertilization (I.V.F.) and surrogate motherhood, have become focal points of ethical commentary and legal proposals particularly since the birth in England in 1978 of Louise Brown, the world's first "test tube" baby. Since then, developments particularly in England and Australia have advanced the relevant technology. These countries may have been able to take initiatives because restrictions on fetal and embryonic medical research in the United States of America, both actual and presumed, arrested developments that specialists in infertility relief were anxious to pursue there.

  • Effects of the "Women's Convention"

    The Convention on the Elimination of A11 Forms of Discrimination Against Women (the Women's Convention) has been fully introduced above (see Chapter I, E), and has provided a pervasive reference point to this Report. Because of the Convention's wide support among both more and less populated Commonwealth Member States (see Appendix to Chapter I) and women's special interests in reproductive health care, the Report is obliged to conclude by giving further consideration to its provisions and spirit.

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