The Corner

Politics & Policy

United Nations Criticizes U.S. States that Tried to Limit Abortion during COVID-19

The United Nations logo is seen at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 23, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

In a recent letter to the United Nations, John Barsa, acting director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, asked the U.N. to remove “reproductive health” and abortion from its humanitarian plan to address the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“The U.N. should not use this crisis as an opportunity to advance access to abortion as an ‘essential service,’” Barsa wrote. “Unfortunately, the Global [Humanitarian Response Plan] does just this, by cynically placing the provision of ‘sexual and reproductive health services’ on the same level of importance as food-insecurity, essential health care, malnutrition, shelter, and sanitation.”

Rebuffing that letter, the U.N.’s Human Rights Council now has formally cited several U.S. states that attempted to limit abortion, among many elective procedures, in order to stem the coronavirus outbreak.

“UN experts are concerned some U.S. states — such as Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Iowa, Ohio, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee — appear to be manipulating #COVID19 crisis measures to restrict access to essential #abortion care,” a U.N. Twitter account wrote last week.

In a statement, the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Office of the High Commissioner elaborated on this criticism, asserting that “some US states appear to be manipulating the COVID-19 crisis to curb access to essential abortion care.”

“We regret that the above-mentioned states, with a long history of restrictive practices against abortion, appear to be manipulating the crisis to severely restrict women’s reproductive rights,” said Elizabeth Broderick, vice chair of the U.N.’s working group on discrimination against women and girls.

“This situation is also the latest example illustrating a pattern of restrictions and retrogressions in access to legal abortion care across the country,” Broderick added. “We fear that, without clear political will to reverse such restrictive and regressive trends, states will continue pursuing this pattern.”

The high commissioner’s office noted, too, that it was “extremely concerned” at the U.S. insistence on removing abortion from the U.N.’s COVID-19 response plan. “We reiterate that sexual and reproductive health services, including access to safe and legal abortion, are essential and must remain a key component of the UN’s priorities in its responses to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Broderick said.

The U.S. and the U.N., then, are at an impasse. In the view of the U.N.’s Human Rights Council — rather inaptly named, considering its dogmatic insistence on promoting the killing of unborn human beings — health care, disaster response, disease mitigation, and human advancement all are impossible without unlimited access to abortion. The U.S. was right to condemn this position, and it ought to forcefully defend the states that drew criticism from the organization. Unfortunately, the Trump administration is handicapped in that effort because U.S. courts have, in most cases, already struck down the state policies in question as conflicting with our abortion jurisprudence.

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