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: CubaColombiaCanada, and Germany.

These States are parties 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] They are also parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which affirms, also in Article 6, 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 states, "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 that a so-called right to abortion exists as well since this right 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 terminated.[4] In 2019, 73,661 abortions were performed for 109,716 births.[5] This is because abortion is being used as a method of birth control.[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 or even force women to abort. The motivation could be ideological: by eliminating any children that could present an anomaly, they could 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 to 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 became the ninth country to legalize abortion after 21 weeks.[9] This blatantly violates the right to life since it permits one to abort a child who would likely survive as a premature baby (see our video on the tragedy of children who survive abortion).

An abdication of all limits to the prohibition of killing

In Canada, the right to life is threatened notably by nonexistent control over abortion by the federal government. Abortion has been decriminalized since 1998, and its regulation has been left to the initiatives of the provinces and territories.[10] Although the specific regulations vary, abortion is still possible in the whole country. The proportion 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 has not taken any measures to oversee abortion nor even expressed concern about reducing the numbers. Instead, the Canadian federal government treats abortion as a banal medical procedure and even invests in its promotion.[12]

Right to life under pressure

Until recently, Germany, while permitting abortion, maintained legal provisions that showed 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] And although the country managed to decrease the number of abortions down to its lowest since 1996, there were still 94,000 abortions performed in 2021.[15] Nonetheless, the need to protect the unborn is still recognized, and counseling prior to any abortion is accordingly mandatory. Although the ECLJ commends the provisions designed to respect the right of the unborn child, it must be unfortunately noted that these protections have been scaled back since the last review of Germany, with the abolition of section 219a of the penal code being part of a broader campaign to open up the conditions for abortion.

In addition to these four countries, the ECLJ felt it important to make a review of the exemplary situation in Tuvalu. Indeed, this country completely bans abortion, outside of exceptional cases of preservation of the life of the mother.[16] Despite calls from other countries to legalize abortion, the country only accepts the principle of “reproductive health” in relation to legitimate health needs, without extending the concept to include abortion.[17] Thus, the ECLJ commends the commitment and 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 it will continue to endure.


[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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