Texas Abortion Ban Is a Violation of International Law

United Nations experts tasked with monitoring human rights abuses across the globe are condemning Texas’ near-total abortion ban as a clear violation of international law, characterizing the state’s newly imposed restrictions as “profoundly discriminatory” and dangerous.

Melissa Upreti, a human rights lawyer and the chair of the U.N.’s working group on discrimination against women and girls, told The Guardian on Tuesday that the Texas ban “violates a number of rights guaranteed under international law” and represents “structural sex and gender-based discrimination at its worst.”

“This new law will make abortion unsafe and deadly, and create a whole new set of risks for women and girls,” said Upreti, who argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to block the Texas ban “has taken the entire country backward” on reproductive rights, potentially imperiling abortion access throughout much of the nation.

Known as S.B. 8, Texas’ new law prohibits abortion after around six weeks of pregnancy and deputizes private citizens to enforce the ban, offering a $10,000 reward — plus legal fees — for those who prevail in litigation against abortion providers or anyone who “aids or abets” the procedure. Many Texas abortion clinics will likely be forced to shut down entirely due to the law, which was authored by Republicans.

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, roughly 85 to 90% of people who obtain abortions in Texas are at least six weeks into pregnancy.

The Supreme Court last week declined to grant an emergency request to stop Texas’ ban from taking effect, a decision that legal analysts said effectively overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established abortion as a constitutional right. As Common Dreams reported, several GOP-led states are already signaling plans to replicate Texas’ law, which was designed to evade legal challenges.

Reem Alsalem, the U.N.’s independent monitor on violence against women, echoed Upreti’s assessment of the Texas ban and the Supreme Court’s inaction, telling The Guardian that the nation’s conservative justices have “chosen to trample on the protection of women’s reproductive rights, thereby exposing them and abortion providers to more violence.”

The U.N. Human Rights Committee has previously said (pdf) that while countries “may adopt measures designed to regulate voluntary terminations of pregnancy, such measures must not result in violation of the right to life of a pregnant woman or girl, or her other rights under the [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights].”

“Thus, restrictions on the ability of women or girls to seek abortion must not… jeopardize their lives, subject them to physical or mental pain or suffering… discriminate against them, or arbitrarily interfere with their privacy,” the panel said in 2018. “In addition, States parties may not regulate pregnancy or abortion in all other cases in a manner that runs contrary to their duty to ensure that women and girls do not have to undertake unsafe abortions, and they should revise their abortion laws accordingly.”

The U.N. experts’ comments on the Texas abortion ban came after U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement Monday that the Department of Justice is exploring “all options to challenge Texas S.B. 8 in order to protect the constitutional rights of women and other persons, including access to an abortion.”

In the meantime, Garland said, the Justice Department “will continue to protect those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services pursuant to our criminal and civil enforcement of the [Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances] Act.”

“The FACE Act prohibits the use or threat of force and physical obstruction that injures, intimidates, or interferes with a person seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services,” said Garland. “The department will provide support from federal law enforcement when an abortion clinic or reproductive health center is under attack. We have reached out to U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and FBI field offices in Texas and across the country to discuss our enforcement authorities.”

As the Texas Tribune reported Monday, the Texas law’s impacts have already “rippled” across the United States.

“Since the law went into effect, many providers have had to cancel procedures or deny care to patients,” the local newspaper observed. “Some clinics have even stopped providing abortion services, according to the Planned Parenthood website… Texans have flooded clinics in neighboring states where abortion laws are less strict. Both nonprofits and private companies have raised funds to support travel for Texans who can’t afford to leave the state.