New recommendations call on the U.S. to fully decriminalize abortion
The United States is violating human rights by denying legal access to abortion—and should take immediate action to end the criminalization of abortion at the federal, state and local levels. This is the newly released conclusion of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in response to testimony from Ipas and partners in October.
“This is a reckoning for U.S. policymakers at every level of government,” saya Bethany Van Kampen Saravia, Ipas senior legal and policy advisor, who attended the October hearing in Geneva. “The UN Human Rights Committee has appropriately called on the U.S. government to acknowledge the human rights crisis that is taking place within America, as states continue to ban abortion and limit access to sexual and reproductive health care.”
The committee also called on the U.S. government to bring its laws in line with the World Health Organization’s 2022 Abortion Care Guidelines, which call for the full decriminalization of abortion and recommend abortion care be made available upon request and without any grounds-based or gestational restrictions. The committee’s conclusions specifically call out several ways the U.S. is violating people’s rights to life, to privacy, to be free from discrimination and torture, and more:
- the criminalization of abortion seekers, providers and those who help them
- restrictions on inter-state travel to obtain abortion
- bans on medication abortion
- the digital surveillance of abortion seekers
These abortion-focused recommendations come as part of the Human Rights Committee’s periodic review of U.S. compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The committee found the U.S. is violating a range of human rights under the ICCPR related to sexual and reproductive health (including abortion), racial and gender equity, sexual orientation and gender identity, gender-based violence, immigration, and more.
Global Justice Center, State Innovation Exchange, Amnesty International, Ipas, Human Rights Watch, RH Impact, and Obstetricians for Reproductive Justice submitted a report to the committee that details the human rights violations caused by abortion bans in the U.S. since the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The committee’s recommendations were informed by this report, plus testimony from members of these organizations who participated in the briefings and consultations during the ICCPR review process along with other members of civil society.
Participants of the UN Human Rights Committee hearing in October in Geneva.
From left to right: Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, Obstetricians for Reproductive Justice; Bethany Van Kampen Saravia, Ipas senior legal and policy advisor; Tijana Šurlan, UN Human Rights Committee member; Dr. Michele Heisler, Physicians for Human Rights; and Jennifer Driver, State Innovation Exchange.
The UN committee’s recommendations on abortion rights emphasize that the United States is out of step with decades of growing consensus in international fora that abortion rights are human rights and must be protected accordingly.
“The US government has long held itself as a beacon of human rights, but the reality is far from it, and the truth is finally coming to light,” Van Kampen Saravia says. “When I asked the Biden Administration what they were doing to operationalize their commitment to abortion as a human right, I was met with evasive talking points that in no way answered my question genuinely. If we are to advance these critical issue, we must first begin with honest conversations and true partnership with open and transparent dialog,” she adds.
In at least 26 states—representing about half of the U.S. population—abortion is either banned completely, heavily restricted to the earliest days of pregnancy, or under legal threat. And 15 states have criminal penalties for patients and providers ranging from less than a year to potential life in prison.
“In the past thirty years, nearly 60 countries have liberalized their abortion laws, while only four have regressed—and the U.S. is one of them. The U.S. is going against the global trend and now we must do something about it,” Van Kampen Saravia adds.
State laws could make UN recommendations a reality
Ipas is already making plans with its partner State Innovation Exchange (SiX) to turn the UN committee’s recommendations into state-level laws that will decriminalize abortion. Early in 2024 the two organizations and other partners will begin working with state legislators to develop and introduce bills that make abortion legal and accessible in accordance with the WHO guidelines.
“We’re here to support state legislators who want to champion abortion access, and we’re able to offer our extensive global experience advocating for abortion law reform at the national, state and local levels,” explains Van Kampen Saravia. “We can and will make the Human Rights Committee’s recommendations matter on the ground for real people in need of abortion care.”
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Tell the Biden Administration to implement UN Human Rights Committee recommendations on abortion rights
Join Ipas and Obstetricians for Reproductive Justice in asking President Biden to do more to protect abortion rights in the U.S. and to stop the human rights violations the United Nations has called us out for. Sign our Change.org petition today.