IACHR: The United States must protect and guarantee women's right to reproductive health

June 24, 2023

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Washington D.C. - One year after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which revoked the right to access abortion and increased barriers to access to reproductive health care services for women, especially those in aggravated situations of vulnerability, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges the Federal and State Governments to adopt measures to guarantee access to reproductive health care services and prevent irreparable damage to the health and lives of women in the country.

Following the reversal of the Roe v Wade precedent, at least 13 states have banned or severely restricted access to abortion, through the establishment of civil and/or criminal penalties for health professionals who provide health care and the explicit prohibition of the use of abortive drugs. Initiatives have also been presented in several states to sanction women who have abortions or seek these health services. Of particular concern are court proceedings to limit access to medications used for emergency obstetric management and safe abortions, even in states where abortion is legal.

The convergence of several laws on abortion in some states, coupled with the unclear wording of some provisions, has led to confusion among citizens about what is legal or not. In this context, women are prevented from receiving the information needed to make informed decisions about their health, while medical personnel are forced to compromise the quality of their medical practice according to health standards for fear of being sanctioned. This is even in cases of obstetric emergencies, pregnancy complications or prenatal check-ups, regardless of the pursued pregnancy outcome.

On the other hand, some states have adopted laws that protect access to abortion, even at the constitutional level, and interstate shield laws to provide reproductive health care to women who are residents of other states. At the federal level, specific instructions have been issued to guarantee access to reproductive health care and medicines, including abortion services, and to strengthen the protection of privacy in this matter. However, these efforts may prove insufficient to ensure access to these health care services for women residents of states where there is an absolute or severe prohibition. In this regard, after the cessation of the provision of abortion services, those hospitals where they are provided have been saturated, leading to delays in care and a shortage of necessary resources.

In this context, the Commission is concerned about the risks to women's health and lives given the restrictions on access to abortion care, which could have an impact on the increase in maternal mortality rates in the country. In particular, it warns of the situation of special vulnerability of black, Afro-descendant, indigenous, migrant women, living in rural areas and/or in poverty, who face greater limitations in moving to states where they can receive the required medical attention, and are at greater risk of being criminalized for seeking abortion services.

The Commission has expressed concern about regressive measures that prohibit or restrict access to the interruption of pregnancy, including in cases of rape or incest, danger to the life of the woman or pregnant person, and obstetric emergencies. In this regard, it has called on States to ensure that women's rights are not disproportionately affected through the absolute criminalization of abortion, and to guarantee access to information, goods and comprehensive reproductive health care services, including abortion, with a focus on gender, age, and intersectionality, in order to allow them to decide in an informed manner and free of all violence about their reproductive life.

Along these lines, and in accordance with the calls of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and United Nations Experts, the Commission urges the United States of America to adopt measures to mitigate and compensate for the negative effects on the health and lives of women from the revocation of the protection of access to abortion, taking into consideration the disproportionate impact of this measure on women in situations of greater vulnerability. The foregoing is through the adoption of legislative, budgetary, public policy and any other measures necessary to guarantee access to all reproductive care health services, including abortion services, as well as the adoption of action protocols that guarantee medical practice in accordance with the highest health standards and in accordance with international obligations..

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 134/23

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