March 2, 2023 – full article
UN urged to intervene over destruction of US abortion rights
Exclusive: letter from human rights groups says overturning of the constitutional right violates US’s obligations as a UN member state
Top human rights organizations are calling on the United Nations to intervene over the destruction of abortion rights in the US.
In a letter shared in advance with the Guardian and sent on Thursday by nearly 200 organizations and experts, the authors detail how, since the overturning of the federal constitutional right to abortion in June 2022, some 22 million women and girls of reproductive age live in states where abortion access is now either banned or inaccessible.
Among the signatories are the Global Justice Center, Pregnancy Justice, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. They are joined by a broader coalition of groups and individual advocates for human rights and racial and economic justice.
Abortion restrictions, the signatories write, deny “women’s decisional and bodily autonomy in a way that rejects the agency, dignity and equality of people who can become pregnant.”
The groups in the letter claim that overturning the constitutional right to abortion contravenes the US’s international obligations as a UN member organization. Member states are obliged to protect and uphold the rights to life, health, privacy, liberty and security, along with freedoms from torture and inhumane, cruel or degrading treatment.
The US’s role as a leader on the world stage does not exempt the country from these obligations – in fact, it should require them to do more, said a representative from the Global Justice Center, which is one of the signatories.
“The US must be castigated on the world stage for its treatment of women, girls and others who can become pregnant – the scale and intensity of human rights violations that the US is inflicting on its population are near unfathomable at this point,” said Christine Ryan, legal director of the Global Justice Center, in a phone interview.
“It has become almost tragically ironic that the US government uses the language of human rights to condemn state abuses against citizens of other countries, be that in Iran, or Belarus. These norms must be deployed against the state here at home as well. And for too long, the US has been able to avoid that type of international scrutiny,” she said.
The authors say the curtailment of abortion rights in the US is of a piece with the country’s history of devaluing the lives of Black women, who are hit worst by abortion restrictions.
“The Dobbs ruling pushed the US even further out of line with its human rights obligations, including its obligation to ensure access to abortion and to eliminate structural racism and discrimination,” said Annerieke Smaak Daniel, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Abortion restrictions compound economic, social, and geographic barriers to healthcare, including contraception, disproportionately impacting Black women’s ability to access the care we need.”
The letter sent on Thursday was addressed to a number of UN agencies and officials, including the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls; the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy. In the letter, the signatories ask recipients to communicate with the US about these violations, to request an official visit to the US, and to ask the country to comply with its obligations under international law as a UN member state.
Ending the constitutional right to abortion has had far-reaching, and in some cases life-threatening risks, the authors write – including for those seeking miscarriage care, those forced to travel across state lines for abortion, and those denied care for potentially fatal complications such as ectopic pregnancies.