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Toward a Universal Declaration of Reproductive Freedom

Louise Melling,
Deputy Legal Director and Director of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Center for Liberty,
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December 5, 2008

To reach our full potential as human beings, each of us must be free to make personal and private decisions about our lives free from unwarranted government intrusion. With whom do we form intimate relationships and enjoy a private sexual life? Will we have children? Raise a family? When and with whom? At their core, these questions and whether we live in a society that respects and supports our right to decide for ourselves how best to answer them profoundly shapes the contours of our lives. In this foundational sense, reproductive freedom is a basic human right.

This week, we come together as an international community to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As this blog symposium makes clear, this is both a time to acknowledge the great advances this treaty fostered and a time to renew our commitment to realizing the vision of freedom, justice, and peace it renders. While the Universal Declaration did not expressly argue for the universality of reproductive rights, subsequent treaties as well as the efforts of generations of women’s health advocates have shown us the importance of recognizing the role reproductive freedom plays in securing human dignity.

But as with all freedoms, reproductive freedom is only truly meaningful if everyone enjoys it equally. We may not all make the same decisions in life, but we can support and respect the right of every individual to make important life decisions based on his or her own values, beliefs, and unique circumstances. As a first step, we must ensure meaningful access to a range of services —from sex education to birth control to high-quality prenatal care and birthing services to the option of safe and legal abortion. We will not reach the full potential of the Declaration of Human Rights until we can ensure that the reproductive rights and access to services granted to some become a reality for all.

Celebrate the UDHR at 60 with the ACLU. Visit and sign the ACLU’s petition calling on the government and newly elected president to recommit to the UDHR. On December 10, the ACLU’s efforts will culminate in the online launch of an exclusive publication about the importance of the UDHR.

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