Texas Abortion Ban Called Out for Women’s Rights Violations at the U.N.

As several states introduce legislation restricting access to abortions across the United States, the nation’s global influence as an advocate for Gender Equality is subverted.

Outside the Supreme Court after the decision on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a 2016 Texas abortion case. (Adam Fagen / Flickr)

This month, leaders from around the world are gathering in New York for the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly. But as the world comes together to discuss urgent problems, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has a message for the United States: New abortion restrictions in Texas violate women’s fundamental rights. 

“This law is alarming,” U.N. experts said of Texas’s six-week abortion ban. “It bans abortion before many women even know they are pregnant,” with no exemptions for rape, incest or fetal health. Experts warned the law will disproportionately impact the most vulnerable: “This law is simply a blatant attack against women in situations of poverty as those with the means will be able to terminate their pregnancy in another state.” 

The U.S. can use its global influence to advocate for gender equality, including abortion rights. But as several states beyond Texas are rolling back abortion rights, and while the Helms Amendment remains in place, it risks undermining its influence on the global stage. 

As the largest bilateral donor in the world, with enormous influence, the U.S. has long held a position of leadership in women’s rights and gender equality. But now, when leadership on women’s rights is needed most, parts of the United States are moving backwards. 

Gender equality—including full access to sexual and reproductive health—is one of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, a blueprint for a better, more sustainable world. But the U.S. policy has at times stood in the way of achieving this goal. 

The global gag rule —which has been instated by every Republican president since Ronald Reagan—has blocked millions of dollars in U.S. government funding for reproductive healthcare by denying funding to organizations that even talk about abortion. The Helms Amendment, an anti-choice policy first passed in the wake of Roe v. Wade, blocks direct U.S. government funding for safe abortion overseas, limiting access to abortion care everywhere the US provides aid. 

At the same time, opponents of abortion rights in the United States have exported both tactics and funding to anti-choice activists around the world. New restrictions like those in Texas, which allow private citizens to sue anyone involved in an abortion, will further embolden activists who want to stop women from accessing abortion care. 

MSI Reproductive Choices has seen first-hand the importance of maintaining access to choice through disasters. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our teams have found innovative ways to keep reproductive healthcare available to women, who faced new barriers during lockdown. We’ve also worked with communities responding to the climate crisis. In Madagascar, severe drought and floods have devastated communities already suffering from food insecurity.  For families facing such instability, being able to avoid an unintended pregnancy is life-changing and even lifesaving. Choice is equally urgent in times of conflict.  Our teams in Burkina Faso serve women displaced by violence, where the risk of dying in childbirth is rising.   

Championing women’s rights and access to choice in the face of these kinds of challenges takes commitment.  

If the United States truly wants to lead on gender equality, it must act boldly to protect choice. Women in Texas throughout the U.S. and across the globe are counting on us.  

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Marjorie Newman-Williams is the president of MSI United States.