Fact Check: Trump Rejects UN Criticism of Using COVID-19 to Violate Reproductive Rights—Despite Evidence

The UN called out U.S. state-level anti-abortion policymakers’ manipulation of the COVID-19 crisis to restrict abortion access in a number of states. Pictured: Mike Pence’s “Thank You Tour” in Hershey, Penn., in December 2016. (Michael Vadon / Flickr)

Last week, the Trump administration finally responded to a statement issued by members of a United Nations panel—from three months ago—calling out U.S. state-level anti-abortion policymakers’ manipulation of the COVID-19 crisis to restrict abortion access in a number of U.S. states. 

In the early days of the pandemic, state governors issued stay-at-home and essential procedures orders to try and curb viral transmission. However, nearly a dozen states with anti-abortion leadership used the opportunity to restrict or outright ban abortion—a time sensitive and essential health care service—in their states under the guise of pandemic management. 

On May 27, the UN working group on discrimination against women and girls said some U.S. states “appear to be “manipulating the COVID-19 crisis to curb access to essential abortion care.”

The U.S. response, dated Aug. 11 and released Aug. 26, feigned ignorance, confusion and insult:

“We received your bizarre and inexplicable letter … regarding alleged undue ‘restrictions taken in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic impeding access to abortion services’ in the United States.” 

The response letter fails to accept the specific issues documented by the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls in May, and instead vilifies and stigmatizes abortion, questions the legitimacy of the UN, and criticizes the organization for wasting “the limited time and resources of your mandates on such spurious allegations…” 

Claims that the U.S. has abused the COVID-19 crisis to undermine reproductive rights are hardly “inexplicable.” In fact, they are easily proven, backed up by a tremendous amount of evidence.

FACT: 11 states used baseless claims to restrict abortion under the cover of a pandemic.

Governors in 11 states, mostly in the South, used the pandemic to restrict access to abortion care by issuing orders that prohibited abortion under the guise of preserving protective equipment. 

However, since abortion care requires little or no protective equipment and is essential to individuals’ health, courts prohibited the orders from taking effect in most of these states. Some orders were temporarily allowed to take partial or full effect; as a result, abortion care was disrupted in Arkansas, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas during the spring of 2020.

(Hillel Steinberg / Flickr)

FACT: Medical groups across the country condemned these political attacks on health care.

These COVID-19 abortion restrictions were swiftly condemned by the American Medical Association (AMA), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and other medical professional organizations. It was another sign that anti-abortion lawmakers will do anything to ban abortion, including exploiting a global pandemic.

FACT: There is clear documentation that pregnant people are harmed by these deceitful restrictions.

Abortion care was disrupted in Arkansas, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas during the spring. Beyond the periods of time when abortion was outright unconstitutionally banned in these states, there was widespread confusion about availability and legality of abortion. 

For example, in Texas the case was subject to such a rapid succession of court decisions that the status of abortion access changed half a dozen times in as many weeks. The research shows clearly how these abortion bans harm people in both obvious and less well-known ways.


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FACT: The pandemic-time abortion bans harm all pregnant people wanting an abortion—especially Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, young people, and people with low incomes who already face other systemic barriers to care.

Analyses during the early months of the pandemic showed that, if allowed to stand, those unconstitutional abortion bans would force people to travel much further to reach the nearest abortion clinic. 

That creates a significant new barrier to obtaining care, further compounding the web of other barriers and restrictions those seeking an abortion already have to navigate. It would undoubtedly prevent some individuals from obtaining an abortion and, for some people still able to access care, it would result in more second-trimester abortions, which are more expensive and can be more difficult to access.

For example, the 6 million women of reproductive age in Texas would, on average, be forced to travel 20 times further to reach their nearest abortion clinic if legal abortion care in the state were shut down. (Here’s documentation on what the impact would be in each state.)

Need more? Here’s 11 bodies of work from Guttmacher policy and research experts showing why sexual and reproductive health and rights must be protected and upheld during the COVID-19 pandemic.


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About

As the senior U.S. communications manager based in the Guttmacher Institute’s D.C. office, Lauren Cross is responsible for developing a wide range of materials designed to communicate Guttmacher’s domestic research and policy work to key audiences including the media, policymakers, health care providers and advocates. She works with staff across the Institute to develop messaging, website content, social media campaigns, graphics and other materials that help to shape public debate.