There’s Nothing “Pro-Life” About Sweeping Abortion Bans

Alabama’s sweeping abortion ban compares abortion to the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, as though the termination of a fetus is morally equivalent to the willful annihilation of a people. But it is abortion bans, not the women who seek them, that put lives at risk every day.

An activist holds up a sign at a #StopAbortionBans rally in St Paul, Minnesota. (Lorie Shaull / Creative Commons)

Legislation that criminalizes abortion access and provision does not prevent abortions—it just makes them more dangerous. The World Health Organization reports that about 25 million unsafe abortions are performed annually, primarily in regions with heavily restrictive abortion laws. Women who have unsafe abortions face serious and even fatal medical complications like heavy blood loss, infection and damage to internal organs. Unsafe abortions are even a leading cause of maternal mortality: 68,000 women die from them every year around the world.

The deadly impact of restrictive abortion policies is so well documented that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, once declared that total abortion bans “amount to a gender-based arbitrary killing, only suffered by women, as a result of discrimination enshrined in law.” 

Arbitrary killing” is a legal term used to describe a situation in which a government kills someone with no due process or proper judicial proceeding. Women’s deaths are an inevitable and absolutely foreseeable result of total abortion bans—and draconian anti-abortion laws like those passed in Ohio, Alabama and Missouri essentially execute women without trial.

Denying an abortion to a woman who wants one, especially if the pregnancy is a result of rape, is traumatic. It forces her to choose between carrying a pregnancy against her will or seeking out an unsafe and illegal abortion. The United Nations Committee against Torture has specifically stated that the denial of abortion to rape victims is torture, and has found other countries with restrictive laws, like Nicaragua and El Salvador, were not compliant with international law.

The U.S. is now in the running for these same violations. Alabama’s near-total abortion ban also contains no exemptions for rape and proscribes felony charges for doctors, making it one of the harshest abortion laws in the world.

Although the anti-abortion movement has claimed the moniker “pro-life,” there is nothing pro-life about forcing women to resort to unsafe abortions. States are ultimately responsible for the harm they cause by instituting these blanket abortion bans.

Abortion bans violate women’s fundamental human rights—including the right to life, the right to be free from torture and the right to non-discriminatory health care. The latest wave of bans in the U.S. are no exception: They threaten the health and safety of women across the country and violate international laws that prohibit extrajudicial killing and torture. They are also blatant challenges to Roe v. Wade, a weak protection of abortion access based on the right to privacy rather than international standards of non-discrimination.

These dangerous new abortion policies cannot stand, but the solution involves more than upholding Roe. The U.S. needs laws that guarantee reproductive rights—not just policies or rulings that can be easily eroded by the will of fundamentalist politicians. 

About and

Liz Olson is the Communications Manager at the Global Justice Center. She holds a BA in History from Reed College.
The Global Justice Center was founded in 2005 to fill a critical need in the international human rights field. GJC works for peace, justice and security by enforcing international laws that protect human rights and promote gender equality. Their model for justice embraces the tenets that gender parity in power and under the law is essential to global security, justice and prosperity for all; that discriminatory political and legal systems that fail to enforce human rights or ensure equal protection to women must be challenged; and that progressive interpretation and enforcement of international law is a powerful catalyst for social and structural change.