Thursday 24 October 2019

UN calls for access to safe abortions for women in US

People walk to the Alabama State Capitol during the March for Reproductive Freedom against the state's new abortion law. Photo: REUTERS/Michael Spooneybarger
People walk to the Alabama State Capitol during the March for Reproductive Freedom against the state's new abortion law. Photo: REUTERS/Michael Spooneybarger

Cecile Mantovani

The United Nations human rights office yesterday called on US authorities to ensure that women have access to safe abortions, saying bans lead to risky underground abortions that can endanger a woman's life.

Missouri's Republican governor Mike Parson signed a bill into law on Friday that prohibits women from seeking an abortion after the eighth week of pregnancy, days after Alabama enacted the most restrictive abortion law in the United States.

"We are very concerned that several US states have passed laws severely restricting access to safe abortion for women, including by imposing criminal penalties on the women themselves and on abortion service providers," UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters.

Evidence and experience have shown that complete bans on abortions do not reduce their number, but drive them underground, "jeopardising the life, health and safety of the women concerned", she said.

Such bans are also "inherently discriminatory", affecting women who are poor, from minority backgrounds or other marginalised communities, Ms Shamdasani added. "So we are calling on the United States and all other countries to ensure that women have access to safe abortions."

"At an absolute minimum, in cases of rape, incest and foetal anomaly, there needs to be safe access to abortions," she added.

Missouri is one of eight states where Republican- controlled legislatures this year have passed new restrictions on abortion.

It is part of a co-ordinated campaign aimed at prompting the conservative-majority US Supreme Court to cut back or overturn the 1973 Roe vs Wade decision that legalised abortion nationwide and recognised a right under the US constitution for women to terminate pregnancies.

The most restrictive of those bills was signed into law in Alabama last week.

It bans abortion at all times and in almost all cases, including when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, but allows for exceptions when the woman's life is in danger.

Anti-abortion advocates are aware that any laws they pass are certain to be challenged.

But supporters of the Alabama ban said the right to life of the foetus transcended other rights, an idea they would like tested at the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, district lawyers in Georgia have announced they will not prosecute women for getting an abortion after the US state effectively banned the procedure.

Georgia governor Brian Kemp signed the controversial "heartbeat" abortion ban into law earlier in the month - giving the southern state one of the most restrictive laws in the US.

The legislation, which has provoked outrage among women's rights groups, bans abortion once cardiac activity can be detected in an embryo. This can be as early as six weeks - at which point most women do not yet know they are pregnant.

The new bill imposes jail sentences for women found guilty of aborting or attempting to abort their pregnancies, with the potential for life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

It is not scheduled to come into effect until January 1 and is expected to face challenges in the courts - with it potentially being postponed.

But anti-abortion activists hope such challenges will lead to the US Supreme Court reversing Roe vs Wade, especially with new conservative justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh sitting on the court.

Irish Independent

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