Maternal Health Care is a Human Right

By Sister Jean Stoner, SND
NGO Representative at the United Nations 

"Alyne da Silva Pimentel would have been 37 years old today if Brazil’s government had honored its responsibility to protect her fundamental human rights. Instead, because she was poor and Afro-Brazilian, she died in 2002 after being denied basic medical care to address complications in her pregnancy. She was only 28 years old. And her death was completely preventable." Read more.

A landmark human rights decision was made recently by the United Nations body that monitors countries’ implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The U.N. CEDAW Committee ruled that governments have a human rights obligation to guarantee that all women in their countries, regardless of their situation, must have access to "timely, non-discriminatory, and appropriate maternal health services."  Even when private institutions provide these services the governments are directly responsible for their actions and must monitor them adequately. This ruling will benefit not only Alyne’s grieving family but women worldwide.

The Committee ruled that in addition to providing appropriate reparation to Alyne’s family, the Brazilian government is required to ensure women’s rights to safe motherhood, provide adequate professional training for health workers, ensure that private health care facilities comply with standards and that adequate sanctions are imposed on professionals who violate women’s reproductive health care rights, and ensure that preventable maternal deaths are reduced. The government is also required to translate the CEDAW ruling into Portuguese and disseminate it widely around the country.