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Groups Tell UN Experts That Overturning of “Roe” Violates International Law

Nearly 200 organizations and individual advocates asked for the UN to take immediate action.

Demonstrators march past the U.S. Capitol during the annual Women's March in Washington, D.C., October 8, 2022.

The June 2022 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court’s reactionary majority to overturn the constitutional right to abortion, which has enabled Republican lawmakers to prohibit or restrict abortion in more than half of the states, unleashed a life-threatening crisis and should be condemned as a violation of the country’s obligations under international law.

So wrote nearly 200 organizations and individual advocates in a Thursday letter that details the devastating consequences of the court’s 6-3 opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and asks a pair of United Nations working groups along with 13 U.N.-appointed independent human rights experts to take immediate action.

“By overturning the established constitutional protection for access to abortion and through the passage of state laws, the U.S. is in violation of its obligations under international human rights law, codified in a number of human rights treaties to which it is a party or a signatory,” the letter states. “These human rights obligations include, but are not limited to, the rights to: life; health; privacy; liberty and security of person; to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief; equality and non-discrimination; and to seek, receive, and impart information.”

As a result of the court’s ruling, which invalidated Roe v. Wade (1973) and left the regulation of abortion up to individual states, “approximately 22 million women and girls of reproductive age in the U.S. now live in states where abortion access is heavily restricted, and often totally inaccessible,” notes the letter, which was supported by a coalition of groups and experts promoting gender, economic, and racial justice, including Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Watch, and Physicians for Human Rights.

The signatories urged “the U.N. mandate holders to take up their calls to action, which include communicating with the U.S. regarding the human rights violations, requesting a visit to the U.S., convening a virtual stakeholder meeting with U.S. civil society, calls for the U.S. to comply with its obligations under international law, and calls for private companies to take a number of actions to protect reproductive rights.”

Christine Ryan, legal director of the Global Justice Center, one of 196 signatories, told The Guardian that “the U.S. 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 U.S. is inflicting on its population are near unfathomable at this point.”

“It has become almost tragically ironic that the U.S. government uses the language of human rights to condemn state abuses against citizens of other countries, be that in Iran, or Belarus,” said Ryan. “These norms must be deployed against the state here at home as well. And for too long, the U.S. has been able to avoid that type of international scrutiny.”

Although the GOP has led the crusade against abortion rights — from the high court justices appointed by Republican presidents to far-right state lawmakers enacting draconian bans — Ryan faulted the Biden administration for reacting in a woefully inadequate manner since last summer.

There has been an absolute calamity in terms of public health [and] human rights,” said Ryan, “and the response has been middling to poor.”

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