U.S. Women Face Unprecedented Assault on Reproductive Rights, Center for Reproductive Rights Testifies Before Human Rights Committee

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New York, NY—Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights testified before the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), informing the panel of the U.S. government’s failures to protect women’s reproductive rights as covered in the principal treaty defending civil and political rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

"We are once again at a crossroads in this country. Reproductive rights are under unprecedented attack from both Houses of Congress, from the Executive Branch, and from many state governments," Priscilla Smith, Director of the Domestic Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights told the Committee. "Access to reproductive health care is limited to certain racial groups and socioeconomic classes. Many laws force women to carry pregnancies to term or increase the risk to women’s health. And the last six years have been characterized by a federal campaign to distort and suppress accurate information about reproductive health care."

Despite high income levels in the U.S. and the fact that contraception and abortion are largely legal, women in this country face substantial and intrusive limits on access to both. These restrictions violate numerous provisions in the ICCPR which the U.S. has signed and ratified. In today’s testimony, Smith highlighted three areas:

Disregard for women’s right to health. Under the ICCPR, men and women have the right to reproductive health care. Yet, there are significant racial disparities in women’s access to reproductive health care services in the U.S. Women of color experience worse outcomes than white women on virtually every measure of reproductive health care. African American women, for example, are more than four times likely to die in childbirth than white women. In addition, despite the Supreme Court’s long-held precedent requiring that any abortion restriction protect the health of a woman, the federal and state governments repeatedly pass laws, such as the Federal Abortion Ban and the recently signed South Dakota abortion ban, that undermine the principle.

Increased restrictions on women’s access to contraception. Based on ICCPR provisions, the Committee has recognized that women’s lack of access to contraceptives constitutes discrimination and it has repeatedly admonished countries for failing to take adequate measures to prevent unwanted pregnancy. The U.S. has one of the highest unintended pregnancy rates in the developed world and yet, U.S. women face many legal barriers to access to contraception. The Food and Drug Administration, for example, continues to refuse to make emergency contraception available without a prescription although its scientists have recommended as much and overwhelming medical evidence supports it.

Distortion and Suppression of accurate information. Under the ICCPR, men and women have the right to make informed decisions about their reproductive health. The Committee has also reminded countries that traditional, religious or cultural attitudes should not be used to justify violations of women’s right to equality before the law. Nonetheless, the federal government and 47 states spend millions of dollars on ineffective, misleading "abstinence-only-until-marriage" programs. These curricula provide no information about access to or proper use of condoms or other modern contraceptive methods. These programs also promote blatant gender stereotypes such as girls are family-oriented and uninterested in academic achievement while boys are career-oriented and uninterested in family.

The UNHRC was briefed today by a coalition of non-governmental organizations on numerous failures by the U.S. government in areas such as reproductive rights, freedom from torture, prohibition of slavery and forced labor, equality before the courts, special protection of children and right to political participation. The testimonies are a prelude to the committee’s formal review of U.S. compliance with the ICCPR this July in Geneva.