Canada, Colombia, Cuba & Germany: the ECLJ defends the right to life at the UN

Right to Life: 4 Countries Reviewed

By ECLJ1684155600000

On the 44th session of the Universal Periodic Review, the ECLJ presented to the UN several reports concerning infringements to the right to life. Four countries in particular violate the right to life of the unborn: Cuba, Colombia, Canada, and Germany.

These States are party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states in Article 6 that “[e]very human being has the inherent right to life”[1] and to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that, also in Article 6, affirms that “every child has the inherent right to life”.[2] This right is also proclaimed in other international texts and conventions, notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Moreover, the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development of Cairo of 1994 asks that the “Governments should take appropriate steps to help women avoid abortion, which in no case should be promoted as a method of family planning”.[3] Thus, if an explicit right to life exists in international law, it is not the case of a so-called right to abortion, which could only be affirmed by diminishing the right to life.

Blatant violations

The right to life is violated in the most tragic way in Cuba, where close to 42% of pregnancies are voluntarily interrupted.[4] In 2019, 73,661 abortions were performed for 109,716 births.[5] This is because abortion being used as a method of regulation of births.[6] The government doesn’t take any initiative to address this issue, despite the consequences it has on women. On the contrary, physicians seem eager to push women to abort, or even to force them to. The motivation could be ideological: by eliminating any children that could present an anomaly, they artificially lower the infant mortality ratio.[7]

In Colombia, the position vis-à-vis abortion has changed dramatically, from restricted to extremely liberal. Until 2022, abortion was allowed only in cases of rape, fetal malformation, or danger for the life of the mother. However, in February 2022, the Constitutional Court made it legal up to the 24th week of pregnancy.[8] Thus, Colombia has become the ninth country legalizing abortion after 21 weeks.[9] The violation of the right to life is blatant, as it is possible to abort a child who could survive as a premature baby.

An abdication of all limits to the prohibition of killing

In Canada, the right to life is threatened notably by inexistent control over abortion by the federal government. Abortion is decriminalized since 1998, and its regulation is left to the initiative of the provinces and territories.[10] If the rules vary, abortion is still possible in the whole country. The number of abortions is high, representing 16,7% of pregnancies in 2020, that is to say, more than 74.000 abortions.[11] Contrary to the Programme of Action of the Cairo conference, the federal government is not taking any measure to oversee abortion and take concern about reducing the numbers but rather treats it as a banal medical procedure, and even invests in its promotion.[12]

Right to life under pressure

Until recently, Germany, while allowing abortion was maintaining legal provisions showing it was indeed a strict and limited exception to the right to life.[13] However, in June 2022, it abolished section 219a of the penal code which banned publicity for abortion and its methods.[14] Although the country managed to bring the number of abortions to its lowest since 1996, it was still 94.000 abortions that were performed in 2021.[15] Nonetheless, the need to protect the child before his birth is still recognized and counselling prior to any abortion is mandatory. Despite the ECLJ commending dispositions destined to respect the right of the unborn child, it is sadly to be noted that these protections have been revised downwards since the last review of Germany and that the abolition of section 219a of the penal code is part of a broader campaign to open up the conditions for abortion.

In addition to these four countries, the ECLJ felt important to make a review of the situation in Tuvalu. Indeed, this country completely bans abortion, outside of exceptional cases to preserve the life of the mother.[16] Despite calls from other countries to legalize abortion, the country only accepts the principle of “reproductive health” in what actually concerns legitimate health needs, without opening including abortion.[17] Thus, the ECLJ commends the commitment and the tenacity that Tuvalu has shown so far in defending the right to life and encourages it to stand firm in the face of the pressures that it will keep enduring.


[1] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights | OHCHR, article 6.

[2] Convention on the Rights of the Child text | UNICEF, article 6.

[3] Report of the International Conference on Population and Development, paragraph 7.24, International Conference on Population and Development | United Nations

[4] Cuba World Ranking #1, Passion Life, https://www.passionlife.org/cuba/ , consulted 04/11/2023

[5] Wm. Robert Johnston, Historical Abortion Statistics, Cuba, Johnston Archive (Jul. 3, 2022), https://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/ab-cuba.html

[6] Yoani Sánchez, Opinion: Many Cubans Using Abortion as Birth Control, DW (Aug. 14, 2018), https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-many-cubans-using-abortion-as-birth-control/a-45070097

[7] Gilbert Berdine et al, Cuban Infant Mortality and Longevity: Health Care or Repression? Health Policy and Planning (Jun. 8, 2018), https://academic.oup.com/heapol/article/33/6/755/5035051

[8] John Otis, Abortion Laws in Colombia Are Now Among the Most Liberal in the Americas, NPR, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2022/05/10/1097570784/colombia-legalized-abortions-for-the-first-24-weeks-of-pregnancy-a-backlash-ensu

[9] The World’s Abortion Laws, CTR. FOR REPROD. RTS. (Sep. 27, 2022), https://reproductiverights.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/WALM_20220927_V1.pdf

[10] History of Abortion in Canada, National Abortion Federation Canada, https://nafcanada.org/history-abortion-canada/

[11] Canadian Abortion Statistics, Abort 73, https://abort73.com/abortion_facts/canadian_abortion_statistics/

[12] Marie-Danielle Smith, Canada Has no Abortion Right Law, Does it Need One?, CBC (Jun. 28, 2022), https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada-abortion-law-1.6503899

[13] Strafgesetzbuch (Code pénal), § 218 et 218(a), https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_stgb/englisch_stgb.html

[14] Panagiotis Lampropoulos, Germany Abolishes Nazi-era Abortion Information Law, Jurist (Jun. 24, 2022, 10 :51:24 AM), https://www.jurist.org/news/2022/06/germany-abolishes-nazi-era-abortion-information-law/.

[15] Elizabeth Schumacher, Germany Moves to Reform Abortion Law, DW (June 24, 2022), https://www.dw.com/en/germany-moves-to-reform-abortion-law/a-62014740

[16] Tuvalu Penal Code art. 214, https://tuvalu-legislation.tv/cms/images/LEGISLATION/PRINCIPAL/1965/1965-0007/PenalCode_1.pdf

[17] OHCHR, UPR of Tuvalu (3rd Cycle – 30th Session): Thematic List of Recommendations, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/lib-docs/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/Session30/TV/MatriceRecommendationsTuvalu.docx

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