Realising the right to sexual and reproductive health : access to essential medicines for medical abortion as a core obligation

Authors & affiliation

Katrina Perehudoff, Lucia Berro Pizzarossa, Jelle Stekelenburg


Background: WHO has a pivotal role to play as the leading international agency promoting good practices in health and human rights. In 2005, mifepristone and misoprostol were added to WHO's Model List of Essential Medicines for combined use to terminate unwanted pregnancies. However, these drugs were considered 'complementary' and qualified for use when in line with national legislation and where 'culturally acceptable'. Discussion: This article argues that these qualifications, while perhaps appropriate at the time, must now be removed. First, compelling medical evidence justifies their reclassification as a 'core' essential medicine. Second, continuing to subjugate essential medicines for medical abortion to domestic law and cultural practices is incoherent with today's human rights standards in which universal access to these medicines is an inextricable part of the right to sexual and reproductive health, which should be supported and realised through domestic legislation. Conclusion: This article shows that removing such limitations will align WHO's Model List of Essential Medicines with the mounting scientific evidence, human rights standards, and its own more recently developed policy guidance. This measure will send a strong normative message to governments that these medicines should be readily available in a functioning and human-rights-abiding health system.

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Staff members:

Katrina Perehudoff

Link to publication

Open link


8550160.pdf (open)

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