Are Pro-Life Laws A Human Rights Violation? Roughly 200 Groups Petition the United Nations for Action

Roughly 200 human rights organizations are asking the United Nations to declare that the United States is a violator of “international human rights law” because some states have passed pro-life laws after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. Given that many countries ban and heavily restrict abortion, it is a pitch that is unlikely to gain traction at the U.N. However, the premise shows a significant escalation of rhetoric by groups like Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch and other organizations.

The 53-page letter informs the U.N. that there are a host of barriers now in place for women and girls in the United States that deny them their human rights. Some of the alleged denials of health care are contestable under existing laws.  For example, they claim that there are barriers to “accessing abortion in cases of miscarriage” and “denial of care in cases of ectopic pregnancy.”

The signatories make an “urgent appeal” that “by overturning the established constitutional protection for access to abortion, and through the passage of the state laws discussed above, the US is in violation of its obligations under international human rights law.”

These include:

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD),

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (unratified)

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (unratified)

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC),188 and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

While the cited states are seeking to protect what they view as the lives of the unborn, the letter accuses the United States of contravening its “human rights obligations to respect the right to life and the right to health.”

The 13 states expressly named are: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma. Georgia is also named for its severe limitation on abortion rights.

It also shows an increasing effort by individuals and groups to enlist other countries in core fights over rights in the United States. For example, figures such as Hillary Clinton have enlisted foreign governments to compel the censoring of fellow citizens: If Twitter can’t be counted on to censor, perhaps the European Union will be the ideal surrogate to rid social media of these posters if U.S. companies or courts will not do so.

The letter raises a long-standing debate over the role of international law as precedent in U.S. court.  The Supreme Court has long debated the question with sharply different views.

In Lawrence v. Texas, Justice Kennedy referenced foreign precedent and practice in his majority opinion declaring sodomy laws to be unconstitutional. Justice Scalia shot back in dissent that “constitutional entitlements do not spring into existence … because foreign nations decriminalize conduct.”

Scalia repeatedly warned about the application of international law as precedent in U.S. cases, as in his concurring opinion in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain where the Court considered whether the Alien Tort Claims Act granted a private right of action to individuals for torts under the law of nations. He wrote:

“The notion that a law of nations, redefined to mean the consensus of states on any subject, can be used by a private citizen to control a sovereignís treatment of its own citizens within its own territory is a 20th-century invention of internationalist law professors and human-rights advocates. The Framers would, I am confident, be appalled by the proposition that, for example, the American peoples’ democratic adoption of the death penalty, … could be judicially nullified because of the disapproving views of foreigners.

… We Americans have a method for making the laws that are over us. We elect representatives to two Houses of Congress, each of which must enact the new law and present it for the approval of a President, whom we also elect. For over two decades now, unelected federal judges have been usurping this lawmaking power by converting what they regard as norms of international law into American law. Today’s opinion approves that process in principle, though urging the lower courts to be more restrained.”

144 thoughts on “Are Pro-Life Laws A Human Rights Violation? Roughly 200 Groups Petition the United Nations for Action”

  1. Redefine abortion as “the killing of an innocent human being.” In rare cases, a medical abortion is necessary and ethical when the fetus or embryo is dead, or when it is not medically possible to save both lives, e.g. ectopic pregnancies. Every abortion is a killing act, a killing of an innocent human being, except when a mere ball of cells does not differentiate basically a tumor. I took my first embryology course in 1965, then studied medicine, public health and law, and wrote a book around 2000 titled, “One Life: How the U.S. Supreme Court Deliberately Distorted the History, Science, and Law of Abortion.”. Previously my friend and colleague wrote the definitive book on the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Case, titled, “From Trial Court to the United States Supreme Court: Anatomy of a Free Speech Case.” Connolly & Walkowski (Branden), January 1, 1996.

    1. “Redefine abortion as ‘the killing of an innocent human being.’”

      And while you’re at it, redefine “free speech” as: “opinions permitted by the authorities.”

    2. William – thank you for all of your efforts, including the book. Having studied medicine and taken multiple courses in embryology, your viewpoint is better informed than many who comment on this topic.

      Uncle Henry

  2. Although Ron DeSantis has aggressively enforced the abortion restrictions in Florida law, he has not been a leader in setting those restrictions. As a result, Florida has a mere 15-week ban, which does nothing to stop the majority of abortions that would occur with no restrictions at all. A law that better protects the lives of the unborn has been proposed by Florida legislators with virtually no leadership assistance from DeSantis.

  3. Dobbs Leaves Numerous Questions Unanswered As Hospitals Fear Prosecution

    Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, emergency health care providers in states that ban abortion have had to make wrenching legal and ethical judgments before treating a pregnant woman whose health or life may be in peril.

    “It’s happening every single day,” said Dr. Jen Villavicencio, lead for equity transformation at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “We’re seeing treatment for ectopic pregnancies being stalled until they rupture and become life-threatening.”

    Federal courts in Idaho and Texas are wrestling with the thorny question of whether state abortion bans or a federal emergency medicine statute should determine whether and when doctors can perform emergency abortions. Last week, they came up with opposite answers.

    A Texas judge ruled that state abortion laws preempt a federal law requiring hospitals and physicians to protect the health and life of all patients who enter an emergency room or labor and delivery department.

    Days later, an Idaho judge found that the same federal law preempts state abortion bans.

    At issue is the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, known as EMTALA. Enacted in 1986, the statute was intended to ensure that all people have access to emergency medical services regardless of their ability to pay.

    EMTALA requires emergency physicians to provide whatever treatment is necessary to protect the health and life of a patient. In most states that ban abortion, an exception is carved out for abortions performed to save the life of a patient — but not to protect the health of a patient.

    Physicians and hospital administrators say it’s difficult or impossible to know when an individual patient might be at risk of dying. More importantly, medical ethics require doctors to provide the best available treatment to prevent patients from reaching that point.

    This is yet another article telling us that ectopic pregnancies are going untreated; contrary to Johnathan Turley’s assurances.

    This article also reveals what any good lawyer could have guessed: ‘The Dobbs decision was seriously flawed’. As this article points out, courts in 2 different states came to opposite conclusions regarding Emergency Medical Treatment. A Texas judge actually ruled that state abortion bans allow hospitals to refuse treatment in violation of Federal law!

    How odd that Johnathan Turley has never explored all the legal issues here. Is he ‘not’ a law professor?

    1. The job of a federal judge is to interpret the Constitution according to what that document actually says or doesn’t say. The fact that you don’t like the result does not mean the decision is flawed.

      1. South Carolina Jurists used the same false reasoning rejected by SCOTUS in Dobbs to justify abortions in their State. Some State justices “act without lawful authority” as SCOTUS said lambasting Massachusetts jurists in the Hurley case, St. Patrick’s Day Parade case.

    2. This stuff is NONSENSE.

      Dobbs kicks the issue back to states.
      Each State has its own laws.
      That is not new.

      If you are a hospital – FOLLOW YOUR STATES LAWS.

      Row/Casey allkowed states to completely bar abortion in the third Trimester.
      Most states did that with few exceptions long prior to Dobbs.

      There are no states where there are consequential changes regarding abortion in the 3rd trimester.
      Which is the only time you would need a hospital.

      There are few states where there are changes that effect abortion in the 2nd trimester.

      If 2nd Trimester abortions are illegal in your state now – they were a year ago too.

      The major effect of Dobbs is on 1st Trimester abortions in only a few states.

      Most states that had banned or severely limited 2nd and 3rd trimester abortions pre Dobbs,
      now ban 1st trimester adoptions to.

      Overall Dobbs changed very little.

      All this ranting about uncertainty is just left wing nut nonsense.

      I would note that with Few deep blue ad deep red exceptions US abortion laws are now very similar to those of Europe.
      Where Mostly 2nd and 3rd trimester abortions are severely prohibited and those in the first relatively unlimited.

      But keep at it.
      Keep spraying everyone with complete nonsense.

      I would further note that the FDA has had for a long time approved a number of “morning after” pills.
      Some are OTC and the FDA is moving to make more OTC.

      You can get a morning after pill anywhere in the US. FDA has approved the sale of some through the mail.

      There are reasons this is arguably a mistake – it is near certain that some women who have waited too long will dangerously try to have an abortion by overdosing on morning after pills. But that is on YOU for approving them OTC in through the mail.
      And your the ones who belive you can regulate the crap out of anything.

      You are making a problem that does not exist.

      Hospitals rarely have anything to do with abortions.
      The only time a hospital is involved is a very late abortion where the life of the mother is at risk or where there is severe problems with the child. These are always Horrible events. They are very rare – and they are legal everywhere.

    3. Mostly falsehood. Every state must simply adopt a law, most have already, allowing abortions when the life of mother is at risk, and even in Roe v, Wade, Texas’ lawyer said before SCOTUS that Texas Law also permitted abortions threatening woman’s health. People, many leftist atheists with no respect for human life, push for more killing of innocent unborn human beings, threatening no one’s life.

    4. Without details, your wild rants are just that. Rants.

      The 4 or 5 Texas women filing law suits, only give limited patchy information. My conclusions, given the full 100% driven by narrative “story” the women made decisions. Then are suing because of those bad decisions. They were all IVF patients, but sought emergency room treatment. Instead of seeking treatment from their OBGYN.
      The “stories” I have read, have no interviews with Dr’s, or Hospital Managers.
      A story with only the mothers perspective is written that way for a reason.

  4. From The Dallas Morning News:

    Texas Hospitals Refusing Treatment For Pregnant Women

    The Texas Medical Association wants regulators to step in after hospitals reportedly refused to treat patients with serious pregnancy complications for fear of violating the state’s abortion ban.

    Since last September, Texas physicians have already had to contend with a law known as Senate Bill 8 that empowers citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” in an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. While there’s a narrow exception in both laws to save the life of a pregnant patient, there’s been confusion about who qualifies.

    Fearing litigation, some providers have delayed abortions until patients’ conditions became life-threatening, according to a paper authored by Texas-based researchers and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

    One hospital in Central Texas allegedly told a physician not to treat an ectopic pregnancy until it ruptured, which puts patient health at serious risk, according to the letter. An ectopic pregnancy, when a fertilized egg attaches outside of the uterus, is not viable.

    Two other hospitals may be directing doctors to send pregnant patients home to “expel the fetus” when their water breaks too early, instead of treating them at the hospital, the letter said. In those situations, physicians have said that patients are at risk of infection.

    The alleged interference not only puts patients at risk of serious injury, the letter said, but also could expose doctors to lawsuits or threaten their medical licenses. It may violate Texas’ prohibition on the corporate practice of medicine, which the board has the power to enforce, the letter said.

    This article notes that ectopic pregnancies are being ignored; contrary to the vague assurances of Johnathan Turley.

    Anyone reading this article could get the impression that the U N is perfectly justified in thinking a human rights problem exists in the United States.

    1. This nincompoop doesn’t understand that the following words aren’t proof, and neither is reading minds or talking about letters that cannot be accessed and have no names attached. Is he the guy from the nail salon?

      ” reportedly refused”

    2. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
      Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
      To the last syllable of recorded time,
      And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
      The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
      Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
      That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
      And then is heard no more: it is a tale
      Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
      Signifying nothing.

  5. Jonathan: Yes, I believe anti-abortion laws are a violation of human rights. Of particular relevance is CEDAW you referenced in your column. It has been ratified by more than 90% of UN members. It has yet to be ratified by the US–along with other countries like Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan and Tonga. Pres. Carter signed CEDAW in 1980 but Republican administrations refused to bring it for a vote in the Senate. Although CEDAW does not specifically mention abortion it was widely viewed to support a woman’s right to reproductive choice. Republicans in the Senate clearly viewed it that way. In 1994 (during the Clinton administration) CEDAW was up for ratification again. But the Senate had changed hands and Jesse Helms was Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. On March 8 Helms gave a speech opposing CEDAW: “I say dream on, because it is not going to happen. Why has CEDAW never been ratified? Because it is a bad treaty; it is a terrible treaty negotiated by radical feminists with the intent of enshrining their radical antifamily agenda into international law. I will have no part in that”. Secy. of State of State Colin Powell, under George W Bush, said CEDAW was a “vehicle for imposing abortion on countries that still protect the right of the unborn”. So Republicans have been the main obstacle to ratification of CEDAW.

    Now over 200 human rights groups have written a letter to the UN claiming the recent anti-abortion laws in 24 states violate a number of international treaties, including 3 the US has ratified. You defend the state anti-abortion laws by claiming they do not prevent a woman from “accessing abortion in case of miscarriage” or “denial in case of ectopic pregnancy”. You are mistaken. In Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas expressly prohibits abortions in cases of ectopic pregnancies. That’s because an ectopic embryo will not survive and the pregnancy will miscarry. In these states it doesn’t matter the life of the mother may be threatened. A doctor can be charged with a felony for terminating an ectopic pregnancy in many of these states. Something you just ignore.

    And you seem to think Scalia got it right by claiming international laws and treaties should play no role in adjudicating cases. That’s not what Justice Kennedy said in his majority opinion in Lawrence v Texas. Furthermore, when the US ratifies a treaty, convention or protocol it becomes the “supreme law of the land” under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. Had CEDAW been ratified by the Senate, the Supreme Court would have been confronted with a much different problem. The defenders of Roe in the Dobbs case no doubt would have argued that overturning Roe would be a violation of CEDAW. Alito, I suspect following Scalia’s credo, would have just ignored CEDAW and still based his decision on a 17th century English jurist who was noted for ordering the burning of witches and the right of a husband to rape his wife.

    The Q is whether the UN will act on the letter from the human rights groups? UN human rights experts have already denounced the Dobbs decision saying: “The Court [US SC] has completely disregarded the United States binding legal obligations under international law, …”. But it appears you and some on this blog believe the the US should just ignore the UN as “anti-America” that violates our “national sovereignty”. This view comes from the notion in this country that the US can act “unilaterally” whenever it suits our interest. Both Republican and Democratic administrations have followed this notion. But the US is a charter member of the UN and we are obligated to follow international law–those treaties we have ratified. Some here think we should just leave the UN and “go it alone”. That would be a dangerous precedent–for many reasons.

    Germany went it alone in 1939 when it violated international law by staring WW11. And in 1943 Hitler pushed through strict anti-abortion provisions in the Paragraph 218 of the German criminal code that provided “a woman who kills her fetus or permits such killing by another will be punished by a prison sentence”. Sounds eerily familiar to the laws now in many US states. Do we really want to emulate the Nazi criminal code? The US has condemned Putin for violating International human rights laws. How can we legitimately complain if we violate the very laws we accuse Putin of ignoring?

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