Unsplash/Gayatri Malhotra via UN News - Photo: 2023

UN Human Rights Experts Denounce Supreme Court Ruling on Abortions

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, 4 June 2023 (IDN) — The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), currently consisting of nine Justices, is the highest court in the land—and one of the most powerful bodies in the country exercising unlimited authority to declare whether a Legislative or Executive act is in violation of the Constitution.

But a group of UN human rights experts* is challenging the Supreme Court in its highly controversial decision to ban abortions.

In a joint statement June 2, the Group says millions of women and girls across the United States have suffered an alarming deterioration in access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, following the Court’s decision, overturning the constitutional right to abortion.

As of January 2023, abortion has been banned in 14 States across the country, and the consequences of the Supreme Court decision in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organisation has reverberated throughout the entire legal and policy system, the experts said. 

“The regressive position taken by the US Supreme Court in June 2022, by essentially dismantling 50 years of precedent protecting the right to abortion in the country, puts millions of women and girls at serious risk,” they said.

The experts also pointed to violations of International Human Rights Law, as a result of the judgement.

Joseph Chamie, a former director of the UN Population Division, told IDN the June 2022 decision of the US Supreme Court overturning the court’s 1973 and 1992 decisions on the constitutional right to abortion has serious consequences for America.

“The decision overturned a right that women have had for a half century. And most Americans, approximately 70 percent, did not want the court to overturn that established right to abortion,” he said.

The court’s decision has resulted in a patchwork of abortion laws at the state level and a myriad of complex enforcement regulations aimed at severely restricting access to abortion, said Chamie, a consulting demographer and author of numerous publications on population issues.

Overturning the court’s earlier established decisions on abortion has also diminished the court’s standing, he pointed out.

“In 2022 a national poll found that 58 percent of Americans, the highest level in the 21stcentury, disapprove of the job the Supreme Court is doing.”

Americans increasingly view the Supreme Court as less of a legal institution and more of a partisan body.

Rather than making decisions based on the U.S. Constitution and laws of the country, the court’s decisions are increasingly being made on the basis of religious views, political preferences and personal convictions, he argued.

In contrast to America’s political and legal struggles with abortion rights, most nations are not against abortion, Chamie noted.

“Countries vary in their abortion policies depending on the specific grounds. Abortions are permitted in 98 percent of countries to save the life of the woman, 72 percent for a woman’s physical health, 60 percent for rape, incest or fetal impairment and 34 percent at the woman’s request,” he declared.

In their statement, the group of UN experts say abortion bans in 14 States have made abortion services largely inaccessible and denied women and girls their fundamental human rights to comprehensive healthcare including sexual and reproductive health.

The experts said the bans could lead to violations of women’s rights to privacy, bodily integrity and autonomy, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, equality and non-discrimination, and freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and gender-based violence.

“Women and girls in disadvantaged situations are disproportionately affected by these bans,” the experts said. They referred to women and girls from marginalised communities, racial and ethnic minorities, migrants, women and girls with disabilities, or living on low incomes, in abusive relationships or in rural areas.

The experts also noted that existing exceptions, although narrow, have proved unworkable in practice.

“The conditions of the exceptions often do not reflect medical diagnosis and sometimes exclude health-threatening conditions,” they said: “Even in cases where physicians determine that the abortion can go ahead, they may still find it difficult to assemble a full team given the reluctance of other health professionals.”

They have warned that the Supreme Court decision also had a chilling effect on doctors and healthcare workers who may face legal consequences for their care decisions, including those regarding medically necessary or life-saving abortions or the removal of foetal tissue from women with incomplete miscarriages.

“We are particularly alarmed by the increasing reports of threats to the lives of abortion service providers across the country,” the experts said.

“The threat of criminalization in many States has discouraged women and girls from engaging with the health system and seeking prenatal care the experts said. “It is particularly alarming that some clinics are now refraining from providing abortion-related services, even in States where it remains legal,” they said.

According to the experts, these abortion bans in many US States have been accompanied by a steady and rapid erosion of the right to privacy, as law enforcement officials increasingly rely on electronic data to track those seeking abortions or those who aid and abet them. Much of this data can be accessed without a warrant, they said.

“We urge both the federal and state Governments to take action to reverse the regressive rhetoric seeping through the legislative system and enact positive measures to ensure access to safe and legal abortion,” the experts said.

*The experts include: Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences; Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Ivana Radačić (Vice-Chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Meskerem Geset Techane and Melissa Upreti, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Nazila Ghanea, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief;  Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or PunishmentFelipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Ana Brian Nougrères, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy; Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Ashwini K.P., Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacities. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Image: Unsplash/Gayatri Malhotra via UN News

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