Geneva – The UN women’s rights committee said today (July 1) that the United States is one of the only seven countries* in the world that are not parties to the international convention that protects women’s human rights, including their right to sexual and reproductive health.
In the light of the US Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, the Committee expressed solidarity with women and girls in the United States. The Committee urged the US to adhere to the convention, which it signed in 1980 but has never ratified. In addition, it called on all states parties to end criminalizing abortion and allow legal abortion at least in cases of rape, incest, threats to the life or health of the pregnant woman and girl, and severe fetal impairment. The Committee issued the following statement:
“The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) urges the United States of America to adhere to the convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in order to respect, protect, fulfill and promote the human rights of women and girls.
With 189 States parties, the CEDAW Convention is the only near-universal treaty that comprehensively protects women’s human rights, including their sexual and reproductive health rights. The United States of America is one of seven states worldwide that have not yet become a party to the convention.
The right to health under article 12 of the CEDAW Convention includes the right to bodily autonomy and encompasses women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive freedom. In addition, article 16 (e) protects women’s rights to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to access the information, education, and means to enable them to exercise these rights.
The Committee recalls that unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal mortality and morbidity. It has repeatedly called on states party to the CEDAW Convention to remove punitive measures for women who undergo abortion and to legalize abortion at least in cases of rape, incest, threats to the life or health of the pregnant woman and girls, and severe fetal impairment.
Access to safe and legal abortion and quality post-abortion care, especially in complications resulting from unsafe abortions, helps reduce maternal mortality rates, prevent adolescent and unwanted pregnancies and ensure women’s right to decide over their bodies freely.
In that regard, the Committee endorses the statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, that “access to reproductive rights is at the core of women and girls’ autonomy, and ability to make their own choices about their bodies and lives, free of discrimination, violence, and coercion.”
Commenting on the US Supreme Court ruling, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that that it is a huge blow to women’s human rights and gender equality, and represents a major setback after five decades of protection for sexual and reproductive health and rights in the US through Roe v Wade.
“Access to safe, legal and effective abortion is firmly rooted in international human right law and is at the core of women and girls’ autonomy and ability to make their own choices about their bodies and lives, free of discrimination, violence and coercion,” said Bachelet. “This decision strips such autonomy from millions of women in the US, in particular those with low incomes and those belonging to racial and ethnic minorities, to the detriment of their fundamental rights.”
Bachelet added that over 50 countries with previously restrictive laws have liberalized their abortion legislation over the past 25 years, but with the Supreme Court ruling, “the US is regrettably moving away from this progressive trend.”