Democratic members of Congress Friday asked the State Department to review US obligations regarding abortion rights under international law and remind US states passing restrictive abortion laws of those obligations.
In a letter, the group of 69 lawmakers explained:
Regression on abortion rights in the United States threatens our standing as a global leader on human rights. With the Dobbs ruling, the U.S. joins Nicaragua, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Poland as the only countries who have reduced protections for reproductive rights after previously extending them. The perception of waning U.S. commitment to the protection of women’s rights and to international law more broadly would be especially harmful because the United States has historically championed women’s rights and reproductive rights.
The letter cites various international agreements the US is party to that protect abortion rights, including Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 6 states that “every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” The UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) is tasked with implementing the ICCPR and has stated that Article 6 protects abortion rights. Article 6 requires countries party to the agreement, like the US, to ensure that people do not need to resort to unsafe abortion options. Countries “must provide safe, legal and effective access to abortion where the life and health of the pregnant woman or girl is at risk, or where carrying a pregnancy to term would cause the pregnant woman or girl substantial pain or suffering, most notably where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or where the pregnancy is not viable.” The UNHRC also urged countries to remove existing barriers to safe and legal abortion, and refrain from introducing new barriers.
In addition to the ICCPR, the congressional group points to other international agreements that have addressed access to abortion, such as the Committee Against Torture and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). CERD’s August 2022 report on the US expressed concern about the Dobbs decision restricting abortion and the “consequent profound disparate impact on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of racial and ethnic minorities.”