World

UN 'very concerned' about abortion access after recent Alabama, Missouri laws

The UN human rights office called on U.S. authorities on Tuesday to ensure that women have access to safe abortions, saying bans lead to risky underground abortions that can endanger a woman's life.

UN Human Rights Office says recent bills disproportionately affect women who are poor

People gather at the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery on May 19, 2019 during a march against the state's new abortion law, the Alabama Human Life Protection Act. (Michael Spooneybarger/Reuters)

The United Nations human rights office called on U.S. authorities on Tuesday to ensure that women have access to safe abortions, saying bans lead to risky underground abortions that can endanger a woman's life.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri plans to sign into law a bill passed last week that prohibits women from seeking an abortion after the eighth week of pregnancy, days after Alabama enacted the most restrictive abortion law in the United States.

"We are very concerned that several U.S. states have passed laws severely restricting access to safe abortion for women, including by imposing criminal penalties on the women themselves and on abortion service providers," UN human rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told Reuters Television in Geneva.

Evidence and experience have shown abortion bans do not reduce their number, but drive them underground "jeopardizing the life, health and safety of the women concerned," she said.

Such bans are also "inherently discriminatory," affecting women who are poor, from minority backgrounds or other marginalized communities, Shamdasani added.

"So we are calling on the United States and all other countries to ensure that women have access to safe abortions. At an absolute minimum, in cases of rape, incest and fetal anomaly, there needs to be safe access to abortions."

Missouri is one of eight states where Republican-controlled legislatures this year have passed new restrictions on abortion. It is part of a co-ordinated campaign aimed at prompting the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court to cut back or overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide and recognized a right under the U.S. Constitution for women to terminate pregnancies.

Watch: Planned Parenthood CEO Dr. Leana Wen on recent bills

Planned Parenthood CEO and President Dr. Leana Wen join the CBC's Aarti Pole to talk about how the new laws could impact their work. 8:25

The most restrictive of those bills was signed into law in Alabama last week. It bans abortion at all times and in almost all cases, including when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, but allows exceptions when the mother's life is in danger.

The Missouri law also contains no rape or incest exemptions.

The Alabama law is not scheduled to go into effect until November, and anti-abortion advocates there and in other states are aware that any laws they pass are certain to be challenged. But supporters of the Alabama ban said the right to life of the fetus transcended other rights, an idea they would like tested at the Supreme Court.

Other states, including Ohio and Georgia, have banned abortions absent a medical emergency after six weeks of pregnancy or after the heartbeat of the fetus can be detected, which can occur before a woman realizes she is pregnant.

Those laws are contrary to the Roe v. Wade ruling, which affords a woman the right to an abortion up to the moment the fetus would be viable outside the womb — usually placed at about seven months, or 28 weeks, but maybe earlier.

Hundreds of U.S. abortion-rights campaigners, including Democrats seeking the party's 2020 presidential nomination, rallied in front of the Supreme Court on Tuesday to protest the new restrictions passed at the state level.

"We are not going to allow them to move our country backward," U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, one of the two dozen Democrats running for president, told the crowd through a megaphone.

Protesters waved signs saying, "We won't be punished" and "Protect Safe, Legal Abortion."

Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg and Kirsten Gillibrand were among the other Democratic candidates on hand.

On Tuesday, Alabama's state legislature voted for a measure that would outlaw almost all access to abortion. Political watchers say this is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S. Legislation to restrict abortion in the U.S. has been on the rise since President Donald Trump appointed two conservative-leaning Supreme Court judges. CBC's Lyndsay Duncombe has been covering this story from St. Louis, Missouri, and today on Front Burner she explains why pro-choice advocates worry that a woman's right to choose in America is at risk of being overturned. 23:33

With files from CBC News