Research Topic

Promoting Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Through Exploring the Intersections Between Policy, Law, and Health

About this Research Topic

The right to the highest attainable standard of health was accepted as a fundamental human right in the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1966, yet norms on what this meant for sexual and reproductive health (SRH) were only published in 2016. Law and policy play a critical role in creating the framework for SRH and this lag has led to a disjuncture between SRH laws and human rights – raising multiple concerns.

The criminal law has been used to enforce certain morally-based values; for example, certain sexual behaviors such as homosexual sex and sex work remain criminal offences in many countries. Laws do not always recognize rights; for example, in many countries adolescents below the age of 18 cannot consent to sex or where they can consent to sex, they require parental consent to access SRH services like contraceptives. Mandatory reporting of underage consensual sex in many countries has also been argued to deter adolescents from accessing SRH services. There is also inequality in norms, for example, laws continue to set lower ages of consent to sex for girl-children in Africa. Laws also do not recognize rights to bodily integrity or privacy and prohibit autonomous decision-making on SRH in many instances.

Laws set the norms for policies which guide national responses to SRH. They shape the nature of SRH programs, place duties on governments to prevent, treat and control diseases and ensure equitable access to health facilities, goods, services, and establish enforcement mechanisms should rights be violated or duties not met. Where laws are not aligned with human rights, this impacts on, amongst other things, access to SRH services; for example, where same-sex relationships are criminalized, prisoners are denied condoms as to distribute them would promote the commission of criminal offences. A lack of alignment also results in unsafe services; for example, research has shown a positive association between safe abortions and less restrictive laws. In the absence of a coherent legal-policy framework, rights violations continue to occur, for example, the lack of a clear policy on non-discriminatory sterilizations has led to the coerced/forced sterilization of women with HIV in many regions of the world.

This Research Topic - promoting SRH through exploring the intersection between policy, law, and health - aims to welcome papers which examine the multiplicity of intersections between law and SRH. Research is needed which identifies gaps in legal and policy frameworks, areas where laws require refinement, or where laws are inadequately implemented. Theoretical perspectives are also encouraged on, for example, the appropriateness of the use of the criminal law to enforce certain SRH norms.

We encourage transdisciplinary research submissions addressing:
(i) intersections between law and SHR, including the role of law in promoting SRH and in particular the use of the criminal law;
(ii) case studies of change through legal and policy reform and especially the use of empirical data to inform change;
(iii) indicators for measuring good SRH policies/laws;
(iv) research that considers the extent to which SRH rights and services are realized; the extent to which laws and policies are implemented or meet international norms; or that use data to make recommendations for law or policy revisions;
(v) the impact of Covid-19 and/or related regulations on access to SRH  services or the implementation of SRH policies;
(vi) whether human rights are the appropriate analytical framework for addressing morally-based legislative approaches to SRH; and
(vii) better understandings of the social determinants of SRH.


Keywords: law, human rights, policy, sexual and reproductive health, intersections


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

The right to the highest attainable standard of health was accepted as a fundamental human right in the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1966, yet norms on what this meant for sexual and reproductive health (SRH) were only published in 2016. Law and policy play a critical role in creating the framework for SRH and this lag has led to a disjuncture between SRH laws and human rights – raising multiple concerns.

The criminal law has been used to enforce certain morally-based values; for example, certain sexual behaviors such as homosexual sex and sex work remain criminal offences in many countries. Laws do not always recognize rights; for example, in many countries adolescents below the age of 18 cannot consent to sex or where they can consent to sex, they require parental consent to access SRH services like contraceptives. Mandatory reporting of underage consensual sex in many countries has also been argued to deter adolescents from accessing SRH services. There is also inequality in norms, for example, laws continue to set lower ages of consent to sex for girl-children in Africa. Laws also do not recognize rights to bodily integrity or privacy and prohibit autonomous decision-making on SRH in many instances.

Laws set the norms for policies which guide national responses to SRH. They shape the nature of SRH programs, place duties on governments to prevent, treat and control diseases and ensure equitable access to health facilities, goods, services, and establish enforcement mechanisms should rights be violated or duties not met. Where laws are not aligned with human rights, this impacts on, amongst other things, access to SRH services; for example, where same-sex relationships are criminalized, prisoners are denied condoms as to distribute them would promote the commission of criminal offences. A lack of alignment also results in unsafe services; for example, research has shown a positive association between safe abortions and less restrictive laws. In the absence of a coherent legal-policy framework, rights violations continue to occur, for example, the lack of a clear policy on non-discriminatory sterilizations has led to the coerced/forced sterilization of women with HIV in many regions of the world.

This Research Topic - promoting SRH through exploring the intersection between policy, law, and health - aims to welcome papers which examine the multiplicity of intersections between law and SRH. Research is needed which identifies gaps in legal and policy frameworks, areas where laws require refinement, or where laws are inadequately implemented. Theoretical perspectives are also encouraged on, for example, the appropriateness of the use of the criminal law to enforce certain SRH norms.

We encourage transdisciplinary research submissions addressing:
(i) intersections between law and SHR, including the role of law in promoting SRH and in particular the use of the criminal law;
(ii) case studies of change through legal and policy reform and especially the use of empirical data to inform change;
(iii) indicators for measuring good SRH policies/laws;
(iv) research that considers the extent to which SRH rights and services are realized; the extent to which laws and policies are implemented or meet international norms; or that use data to make recommendations for law or policy revisions;
(v) the impact of Covid-19 and/or related regulations on access to SRH  services or the implementation of SRH policies;
(vi) whether human rights are the appropriate analytical framework for addressing morally-based legislative approaches to SRH; and
(vii) better understandings of the social determinants of SRH.


Keywords: law, human rights, policy, sexual and reproductive health, intersections


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

25 July 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

25 July 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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