(PRESS RELEASE) Women in Texas and across the country continue to face discrimination and extreme barriers to basic health care services like abortion—according to independent experts from the United Nations (U.N.) Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice.
The Working Group—which visited Washington, D.C. and Texas interviewing various community leaders, elected officials, and individual women—announced their preliminary findings at a press conference in Washington, DC last Friday, noting that the U.S. in general “is allowing its women to lag behind international human rights standards.” The experts called out reproductive rights as a particular area of concern for women in the U.S., noting that although “women have a legal right to terminate a pregnancy under federal law, ever increasing barriers are being created to prevent their access to abortion procedures.”
The Working Group’s findings also affirm that women in Texas are facing a reproductive health care crisis due to drastic cuts to family planning services starting in 2011 followed by the 2013 passage of HB2—an extreme clinic shutdown law which has already shuttered half of the clinics in the state. In February 2015, this same Working Group raised concerns to the U.S. government about the impact of HB2 on women’s health and rights.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a challenge brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights to the most restrictive provisions of HB2, which threaten to shut down all but 10 abortion clinics in Texas.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“It is simply unacceptable that Texas women are facing a reproductive rights crisis so dire that the global community is calling attention to it as a human rights violation.
“Health care is a human right and the ability to plan your family or end a pregnancy safely and legally is essential to women’s dignity and self-determination.
“It’s time for the US Supreme Court to put a stop to these deceptive laws and ensure all women are able to get the health care they need to plan their families, futures, and lives.”
Additionally, the experts noted that abortion restrictions have a particularly disproportionate effect on low-income and immigrant women—highlighted most starkly in their visit to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where they met with and toured Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen, the last remaining abortion clinic in the area.
They also raised concerns that despite “considerable progress” in expanding access to preventive reproductive health care under the Affordable Care Act, “there is still no universal health coverage in the country, and too many women pay the price, sometimes with their lives, of this considerable coverage gap with strong regional and ethnic disparities.”
The working group—which was composed of international experts on human rights law–was on a ten day fact-finding mission of the United States to assess the progress made towards achieving gender equality and the protection and promotion of women’s human rights in the United States. In addition to fact-finding in Texas, the experts also spent time in Alabama and Oregon. The working group will now prepare a final report for the UN Human Rights Council, including more detailed findings and recommendations to the United States, to be presented in June 2016.
The Center—along with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health—has been documenting the devastating impact of Texas family planning cuts and other threats to the health and human rights of Latinas and immigrant women in South Texas since late 2012. Earlier this month, the Center and NLIRH released a report called ¡Somos Poderosas! A Human Rights Hearing in the Rio Grande Valley on the first-ever domestic women’s human rights hearing. The report and accompanying testimony detail how the dismantling of the state’s reproductive health care safety net, coupled with burdensome abortion restrictions, has left the Texas women most in need of affordable reproductive health care without access to critical services.