Washington, DC, USA, May 5, 2022: people protest the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade and the right to abortion

Reproductive Governance in a Post-Roe US: The Weaponization of Health Systems

By Alicia Ely Yamin

I was living and working in Peru in 2001, when Karen Noelia Llantoy discovered she was pregnant with an anencephalic fetus. Llantoy, a minor at the time, became profoundly depressed. Her own physician, a social worker, and a psychiatrist all concurred that she should have a termination, as anencephaly is a fatal brain defect that also poses an unnecessary risk to the mother’s physical health, and the pregnancy was having a severe impact on Llantoy’s mental health.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina – August 31, 2017: Horizontal view of some waste collector machines over Matanza River (also known as Riachuelo at its mouth in River Plate), La Boca neighborhood.

Searching for Environmental Justice in Argentina: Revisiting the Reality of the Matanza-Riachuelo River Basin Case after Fifteen Years

By Alicia Ely Yamin and María Natalia Echegoyemberry

The first thing that strikes you when you arrive in Argentina’s Villa Inflamable (literally “Inflammable Slum”) is the noxious sulfur smell of the air that mixes with other acrid chemicals, which makes it difficult to breathe deeply. When a breeze picks up, the sands that have been used to extract contaminated water from the nearby Riachuelo, one of the ten most highly contaminated rivers in the world, rain down on everyone, filling eyes and lungs with toxic particulate matter.

As petrochemical tanker trucks parade through nearby paved streets, the unpaved lanes of Villa Inflamable alternate between toxic dust blowing through the air on dry days to flooding raw sewage on rainy ones. Everyone knows someone who died of cancer, or had pregnancy complications and children with birth defects. More than 600 children have been born and are growing up exposed to highly carcinogenic chemicals, such as benzene and toluene.

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GHRP affiliated researchers.

Introducing the Global Health and Rights Project’s New Affiliated Researchers

(Clockwise from top left: Alma Beltrán y Puga, Luciano Bottini Filho, Ana Lorena Ruano, María Natalia Echegoyemberry)

By Alicia Ely Yamin and Chloe Reichel

Leer en español.

In the years before the pandemic, and especially since the pandemic began, there have been increasing calls to decolonize global health. Setting aside what Ṣẹ̀yẹ Abímbọ́lá rightly characterizes as the slipperiness of both the terms “decolonizing” and “global health,” these calls speak to the need to reimagine governance structures, knowledge discourses, and legal frameworks — from intellectual property to international financial regulation.

Global health law itself, anchored in the International Health Regulations (2005), purports to present a universal perspective, but arguably rigidifies colonialist assumptions about the sources of disease, national security imperatives, priorities in monitoring “emergencies,” and governance at a distance. The diverse tapestry of international human rights scholarship related to health is often not reflected in analyses of the field from the economic North. In turn, that narrow vision of human rights has also increasingly faced critiques from TWAIL, Law & Political Economy, and other scholars, for blinkered analyses that fail to challenge the structural violence in our global institutional order — which the pandemic both laid bare and exacerbated.

In an attempt to enlarge discussion of these important topics and amplify diverse voices, the Petrie-Flom Center is welcoming four new affiliated researchers to the Global Health and Rights Project (GHRP).

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WHO flag.

Can a Pandemic Lawmaking Exercise Promote Global Health Justice? — Final Symposium Editorial

By Alicia Ely Yamin, on behalf of the editors*

Leer en español.

Lire en français.

Amid the unfolding “moral catastrophe” of COVID-19, and across the entries in this symposium, we see a clamor for any pandemic law-making exercise to promote more justice in global health.

However, this universally-embraced imperative masks a wide array of divergent views about the nature and sources of inequalities in global health, and in turn what should be done if we were to think beyond a narrow pragmatism of the moment.

In this final editorial, we attempt to surface some of the critical contestations that underlie any future pandemic treaty or revisions of the International Health Regulations (IHR).

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Bolivar Square with Cathedral and Colombian Palace of Justice - Bogota, Colombia.

The Stakes of the Pending Colombian Constitutional Court Abortion Decision

By Alicia Ely Yamin

Amid the massive social protests wracking Colombia, the Colombian Constitutional Court is currently considering whether to decriminalize abortion beyond the narrow exceptions already recognized in law.

The petition was brought before the court by the Causa Justa (“Just Cause”) movement, a group of activists and organizations who argue that the country’s broad criminalization of abortion through Article 122 of the Penal Code poses an unconstitutional violation of women’s rights.

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Political Map of South American Continent.

Regional Insights for Constitutionalizing the Right to Health in Chile

By Alicia Ely Yamin                                                    

Chile is one of the few countries in Latin America that has not amended its constitution post-dictatorship. That is set to change on October 25th when the country will hold a plebiscite on constitutional reform.

Any new Chilean Constitution may well follow the path of constitutional reform elsewhere in the region. These reforms, which occurred in the late 1980s and 1990s, and more recently in Mexico, expanded social rights through expanding enumerations and/or incorporation of international human rights law into the constitutional text through “constitutional blocs” (bloques de constiucionalidad).

In situating what is at stake, it is important to recall that the evolution of health rights in Latin America is closely linked to contestation over boundaries between private morality and public policy, between individual and social responsibility, and between the role of the state and markets.

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Map from Global COVID-19 Symposium.

Global Responses to COVID-19: An Inflection Point for Democracy, Rights, and Law

By Alicia Ely Yamin

Although some of the common challenges identified across our global survey of legal responses to COVID-19 have their roots in long-established realities, the economic and social inflection point created by COVID-19 provides an opportunity, as well as an imperative, to consider how these responses will shape social norms and structure democratic institutions in the post-pandemic world.

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international connections concept art.

Key Themes in “Global Responses to COVID-19” Symposium: Privacy and Health Rights

By Alicia Ely Yamin

This post is the second analysis of key themes that have emerged from the digital symposium “Global Responses to COVID-19: Rights, Democracy, and the Law.”

1. The crisis exposes dramatically different impacts on the distinct interests protected as “privacy” rights.

Life in democratic societies is enhanced when the law protects what information and aspects of intimate personal life an individual shares with others.

But the pandemic has accelerated the use of a variety of surveillance technologies, which are now being introduced and/or rapidly expanded to trace the virus, and in turn individuals’ movements and lives. One South Korean legal expert interviewed for this symposium put it bluntly: “It looks like we’re living at the end of privacy.”

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Covid 19 map confirmed cases reported worldwide globally.

Emerging Themes from the “Global Responses to COVID-19” Symposium

By Alicia Ely Yamin

The shape of the COVID-19 pandemic and legal responses to it are changing rapidly across different contexts.  Nonetheless, many of the issues raised in this global symposium will undoubtedly be the subject of scholarly and policy debates for the foreseeable future. Here I synthesize three emerging themes regarding structural challenges and democratic design.

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LOMBARDIA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 26, 2020: Empty hospital field tent for the first AID, a mobile medical unit of red cross for patient with Corona Virus. Camp room for people infected with an epidemic.

Framing the Digital Symposium – Global Responses to COVID-19: Rights, Democracy, and the Law

By Alicia Ely Yamin, Senior Fellow

This digital symposium presents a pointillistic portrait of the spectrum of rights-related measures adopted in response to COVID-19 in dozens of countries around the world. The impulse for this symposium emerges out of the conviction that it is imperative that we emerge from the throes of this pandemic not only with the fewest possible lives and livelihoods lost, but also with democratic institutions and the rule of law intact.

That portrait will invariably evolve during the duration of the symposium, and long beyond. Nonetheless, now is the time to begin collectively reflecting on lessons regarding the relationship between population health and decision-making in emerging, consolidated, and illiberal democracies alike — and their implications for the post-pandemic future we want.

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