UNITED NATIONS, Jun 25 (APP): The United Nations Human Rights Chief, Michelle Bachelet, has termed the U. S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned the constitutional right to abortion as a “huge blow” to women’s rights and gender equality, as UN agencies warned that restricting access to abortion does not prevent people from seeking it but simply makes it “more deadly.”
In its extraordinary ruling on June 24, the Court decided by six votes to three to overturn the 50-year-old ‘Roe vs Wade judgment’ that guaranteed access to abortion across the country.
The decision means that all questions of legality and access to abortion will now go to America’s individual states, some of whom immediately put abortion bans into place.
In Washington, US President Joe Biden described it as “a tragic error” and urged states to enact laws to allow the procedure.
Demonstrators from both sides have gathered outside the Court, with police keeping them apart, and there were reports of big protests across the United States.
One anti-abortion activist said she was “elated” as her side cheered the decision. “It’s not enough just to make this the law of the land. To be pro-life is to make [abortion] unthinkable,” she said.
Across the divide, pro-choice supporters decried the decision as “illegitimate” and even a form of “fascism”.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, far from preventing women from resorting to abortion, could endanger their lives.
“Restricting access to abortion does not prevent people from seeking abortion, it only makes it more deadly,” Spokesman Stephane Dujarric told his daily noon briefing in New York on Friday. “Sexual and reproductive health and rights are the foundation of a life of choice, empowerment and equality for the world’s women and girls.”
On her part, Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “The U. S. Supreme Court ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization delivered today represents a major setback after five decades of protection for sexual and reproductive health and rights in the U. S. through Roe vs Wade. It is a huge blow to women’s human rights and gender equality.”
She said access to safe, legal and effective abortion is firmly rooted in the international human rights 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.
“This decision strips such autonomy from millions of women in the U. S., in particular those with low incomes and those belonging to racial and ethnic minorities, to the detriment of their fundamental rights. More than 50 countries with previously restrictive laws have liberalized their abortion legislation over the past 25 years. With today’s ruling, the U. S. is regrettably moving away from this progressive trend,” she said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) tweeted that every year over 25 million unsafe abortions take place and up to 37,000 women die. It warned that evidence shows that restricting access to abortion does not reduce the number of abortions that occur. Restrictions are, however, more likely to drive women and girls towards unsafe procedures.
“Safe abortion care is essential to protect the health of women and girls everywhere. Removing access to #abortion care will put more women & girls at risk of illegal abortions and the consequent safety issues that would bring,” the WHO said.
The UN agency on women empowerment and gender equality, UN Women, said in a statement that reproductive rights are integral to women’s rights, a fact that is upheld by international agreements and reflected in law in various parts of the world.
“To be able to exercise their human rights and make essential decisions, women need to be able to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to information, education, and services,” it said.
The UN Women added that when safe and legal access to abortion is restricted, women are forced to resort to less-safe methods, too often with damaging or disastrous results—especially for women who are affected by poverty or marginalisation, including minority women.
“The ability of women to control what happens to their own bodies is also associated with the roles women are able to play in society, whether as a member of the family, the workforce, or government,” the UN Women said.
“The UN Women remains steadfast in our determination to ensure that the rights of women and girls are fully observed and enjoyed worldwide, and we look forward to continued evidence-based engagement with our partners everywhere in support of rapid progress towards universal enjoyment of universal rights,” it added.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), citing its 2022 State of the World Population Report, said that nearly half of all pregnancies worldwide are unintended, and over 60% of these unintended pregnancies may end in abortion.
“A staggering 45% of all abortions around the world are unsafe, making this a leading cause of maternal death. Almost all unsafe abortions currently occur in developing countries, and UNFPA fears that more unsafe abortions will occur around the world if access to abortion becomes more restricted.
Decisions reversing progress gained have a wider impact on the rights and choices of women and adolescents everywhere.” “Whether abortion is legal or not, it happens all too often. Data show that restricting access to abortion does not prevent people from seeking an abortion, it simply makes it more deadly,” it said.
The 1994 Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), signed by 179 countries including the United States, recognised how deadly unsafe abortions are and urged all countries to provide post-abortion care to save lives, irrespective of the legal status of abortion.
It also highlighted that all people should be able to access quality information about their reproductive health and contraceptives.