UN and US trade criticism over abortion during coronavirus
United Nations Headquarters in New York. UN PHOTO
By Catholic News Agency
May 31, 2020
NEW YORK— United Nations Human Rights Council has criticized some U.S. states for using the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to restrict abortion.
“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,” tweeted the United Nations Special Procedures account on Wednesday, May 27.
The tweet linked to an article published Wednesday on the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Office of the High Commissioner’s website that further cited the states for classifying elective abortions as a non-essential medical procedure.
“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 UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls, quoted in the article.
“This situation is also the latest expmple illustrating a pattern of restrictions and retrogressions in access to legal abortion care across the country. We fear that, without clear political will to reverse such restrictive and regressive trends, states will continue pursuing this pattern,” Broderick added.
She further expressed fears that the measures introduced to conserve medical resources to fight the coronavirus would result in women staying pregnant past their state’s legal limit for abortion and “render abortion services completely inaccessible,” and reiterated her belief that “abortion care constitutes essential health care and must remain available during the COVID-19 crisis.”
Abortion access in the United States has remained a contentious issue throughout the pandemic. Several states sought to halt elective abortions as well as other medical procedures deemed non-essential, such as knee replacements.
Courts throughout the country reached differing conclusions on the legality of these rules. Some of these bans, such as the one in Texas, have already expired.
The UN’s criticism of the abortion policies in the U.S. comes less than 10 days after acting USAID Administrator John Barsa sent a letter United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on May 18, criticizing the United Nations for putting abortion access and other sexual health issues on the same priority as other basic human needs, such as access to food and shelter.
“The U.N. should not use this crisis as an opportunity to advance access to abortion as an ‘essential service,'” wrote Barsa.
“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. Most egregious is that the Global HRP calls for the widespread distribution of abortion-inducing drugs and abortion supplies, and for the promotion of abortion in local country settings.”
Barsa cited President Donald Trump’s priority of “defending innocent life” in his letter, and reminded Guterres that Trump told the U.N. General Assembly that the organization has “no business attacking the sovereignty of nations that wish to protect innocent life.”
“To use the COVID-19 pandemic as a justification to pressure governments to change their laws is an affront to the autonomy of each society to determine its own national policies on health care,” said Barsa. “The United States stands with nations that have pledged to protect the unborn.”
Three days later, on May 21, the U.N. refuted this claim and said that they would not use the pandemic to promote abortion.
“Any suggestion that we are using the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to promote abortion is not correct,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said at the time, noting that “we do not seek to override any national laws.”