The UN Population Fund, in their latest report about violence against women, states:

Interpretations of human rights treaties identify “gender-biased sex selection” in favour of boys as a harmful practice. International human rights law, to a large extent, defers to nations to legislate on abortion (UN HRC, 2018). However, a plethora of recognized human rights together frame son preference as manifested in gender-biased sex selection as a human rights violation.

Rights related to equality and non-discrimination:
• Women’s Convention, Articles 2 and 3
• Child Rights Convention, Article 2

Rights against gender stereotyping:
• Women’s Convention, Article 5(a)

The right to be secure in one’s person:
• International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 9

The right to be protected from violence:
• Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, General Recommendations 19 and 35

The right to enjoy one’s health:
• International Covenant on Economic and Cultural Rights, Article 12
• Women’s Convention, Article 12

I am utterly puzzled at this implicit apology to abortion more broadly but against sex-selection abortion. I am of course not defending the latter but against abortion in general, which is also "discrimination" against unborn babies, violates the "right to be secure in one's person", violates the "right to be protected from violence" and violates the "right to enjoy one's health" (sic from above).

Why does abortion in general does not, for the UN, imply a violation of these rights?

  • Where does any of that say that gender-based abortion (or sex selection in general) is against human rights? Things can certainly be harmful practices (for instance typical western lifestyle leading to obesity-related health problems) without in any way being a violation of human rights.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 16:49
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    While abortion is currently the most feasible method of gender-biased sex selection, there are other ways to select for boys that would equally be considered a harmful practice. Gender-based selection of embryos to implant in IVF (this is already a concern, from what I've read). Gender-based selection of what sperm to use for IVF (this is currently possible but far from practical). Suppressing the production of X-carrying sperm (this is theoretical as far as I know). .... This doesn't address your challenges to abortion itself, but it does possibly shed some more light on the language. Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 17:16
  • politics.stackexchange.com/questions/23757/…
    – DavidW
    Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 19:03
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    It is sad to see that no-one at all on this page confidently declaring what "the UN position" is has actually read UN Human Rights Committee General Comment 36 (2018), because no statement here written so far agrees with it. Almost nobody has, moreover, realized that the Human Rights Committee and the Population Fund are not only two different bodies but two different types of body. This isn't even a single "the UN" saying this.
    – JdeBP
    Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 22:27
  • 3
    I had to delete several comments which were debating abortion. Please remember how comments should and should not be used on Stack Exchange. They should be used to improve the question, not to debate its subject matter.
    – Philipp
    Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 13:57

2 Answers 2


"Unborn baby" is not a protected characteristic and hence the "unborn" cannot be discriminated against. Many would argue that the "unborn" are not legally persons and as such have no rights that can be violated. Even if the fetus has rights, so does the pregnant person and it is in no way obvious that the fetus's rights override the pregnant person's. Forcing a woman to remain pregnant against her wish can however be argued to violate the right to be secure in ones own body and enjoy ones health.

The fetus's "rights" do not override the pregnant person's rights. This is the key point for the last three rights. Even if those rights apply to fetuses (which is not obvious) the pregnant person also has those rights, and forcing them to remain pregnant against their will violates them. Allowing or not allowing abortion is a statement on whose rights are more important. The UN, and people in favour of abortion in general, argue that the pregnant person's rights matter more than the fetus. Opponents argue that the fetus matters more.

Sex based abortions are however seen as a symptom of a society that undervalues and discriminates against women. Selectively aborting female fetuses is typically not done because the pregnant person doesn't wish to be pregnant, but rather because girls are seen as less valuable. It's condemned by the UN because it's seen an extreme expression of discrimination against women in general.

  • 9
    Since the question specifically asks for the UN's views, this answer could be improved by citing statements by the UN demonstrating that it shares this view point. Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 22:48
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    I don't think that the UN's human rights philosophy is different than the general and universal human rights philosophy as viewed by the majority of nations individually and stated by Johanna. The UN implies that it's silly to equate gender eugenics and abortion law, so it explicitily states both gender eugenics and general abortion as different. Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 21:18

This is a mine field topic. So I am going to be very brief and not get in too deep.

There are may reasons why people get abortions, some 'good' some 'bad'

(Debating all of which is which, is not for this answer. So I am only going to give one example: Both the mother and child will almost certainly die otherwise)

Not having access to (safe) abortions means none of the good reasons are available to be exercised. So access is important.

It is too complicated for the UN to provide all the good and bad reasons for all cultures and all people circumstances. Almost always this needs to come down to a personal judgment.

However gender based abortions is almost always, in the UN's judgment, not a good reason. It causes more problems that it solves.

tl;dr; There are some good reasons (not to debate here) to have an abortion, so access is important. However on balance gender based abortions is not a good reason

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