GENEVA (1 July 2022) – The UN women’s rights committee today said that the United States is one of the only seven countries* in the world that are not parties to the international convention that protects women’s human rights, including their right to sexual and reproductive health.
The Committee urged the United States of America to adhere to the Convention, which it signed in 1980 but has never ratified. In the light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, the Committee expressed solidarity with women and girls in the United States. In addition, it called on all States parties to end criminalising abortion and allow legal abortion at least in cases of rape, incest, threats to life or health of the pregnant woman and girl, and severe foetal impairment. The Committee issued the following statement:
“The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) urges the United States of America to adhere to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in order to respect, protect, fulfil and promote the human rights of women and girls.
With 189 States parties, the CEDAW Convention is the only near-universal treaty that comprehensively protects women’s human rights, including their sexual and reproductive health rights. The United States of America is one of seven States worldwide that have not yet become party to the Convention.
The right to health under article 12 of the CEDAW Convention includes the right to bodily autonomy and encompasses women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive freedom. In addition, article 16 (e) protects women’s rights to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights.
The Committee recalls that unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal mortality and morbidity. It has repeatedly called on States parties to the CEDAW Convention to remove punitive measures for women who undergo abortion and to legalize abortion at least in cases of rape, incest, threats to the life or health of the pregnant woman and girls and severe foetal impairment.
Access to safe and legal abortion and to quality post-abortion care, especially in cases of complications resulting from unsafe abortions, helps to reduce maternal mortality rates, prevent adolescent and unwanted pregnancies and ensure women’s right to freely decide over their bodies.
In that regard, the Committee endorses the statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, that “access to reproductive rights is at the core of women and girls’ autonomy, and ability to make their own choices about their bodies and lives, free of discrimination, violence and coercion.”
The Committee has repeatedly stressed in its dialogues with States parties, and in its concluding observations and its jurisprudence under the Optional Protocol to the Convention, that denial of access to safe and legal abortion is a severe restriction on women’s ability to exercise their reproductive freedom, and that forcing women to carry a pregnancy to full term involves mental and physical suffering amounting to gender-based violence against women and, in certain circumstances, to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, in violation of the CEDAW Convention.
The Committee is committed to upholding the human rights of women and girls around the world. It will not resile from this mandate, especially in relation to access to safe and legal abortion for all women.
In light of the recent decision of the United States Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization striking down Roe v. Wade,a near half-century legal precedent that has protected women’s right to choose to have an abortion, the Committee expresses its solidarity with women and girls in the United States and resolutely urges the United States of America to adhere to the Convention.”
*The United States of America played a significant role in drafting the CEDAW Convention. It was the first State to sign the Convention in July 1980; however, it has never ratified it. The other States that are not parties to the Convention are Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, Tonga, and the Holy See.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Womenmonitors States parties’ compliance with theConvention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which to date has 189 States parties. The Committee is made up of 23 members who are independent human rights experts from around the world elected by the States parties, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties.