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Texas Journal of Women & the Law

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Feminists involved in international human rights law have long recognized that reproductive rights are an essential part of any larger struggle for women's human rights. As noted at the World Conference on Population in Cairo in 1994 and reiterated at the World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, control over their own reproduction is a prerequisite for any meaningful conception of women's human rights. At the same time, feminists have recognized that reproductive rights, in fact, involve a range of related but distinct rights -- from access to birth control for minors to environmental safeguards that protect women from involuntary sterilization from industrial pollutants. These rights play out in an equally broad range of contexts -- from intimate decision making within the nuclear family to state family-planning policy making. This paper focuses on the right to abortion and the inability of feminists to generate consensus regarding that right on the international level, despite widespread agreement as to its basic importance. This inability can be traced partly to the different functions abortion serves in different countries and partly to the different strategies that feminists have employed at the national level to safeguard or limit the right to abortion. This paper examines the political and social constructions of abortion in China, Germany, and South Africa -- states that have all reformed their abortion laws within the last ten years -- to show how subversions of national abortion policies have effectively subverted attempts to produce an intelligible international position.



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