The Global Justice Center Marks the 50th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

NEW YORK  — The Global Justice Center today joins abortion rights advocates across the United States by commemorating the 50-year anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, which established the constitutional right to abortion.

Today’s anniversary comes just months after Roe was overturned in June 2022 by the Supreme Court. This ruling was the culmination of decades of work by the anti-abortion movement that began immediately after Roe was decided in January 1973.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“We join all of our allies in the struggle for abortion rights today in mourning the end of Roe v. Wade on its 50th anniversary. Everyone in the United States owes a great debt to the 1973 ruling and the movement responsible for it. But, of course, Roe was always the floor, not the ceiling. Millions, particularly marginalized populations, were denied access to abortion in the decades that followed.

“Thanks to the anti-abortion movement that mobilized immediately after Roe, the story of abortion access in the United States since 1973 has been one of steady regression. Increasingly severe restrictions on abortion care, both at the state level and nationally, were imposed and upheld by courts over the intervening decades. The promise of Roe was denied to entire generations.

“Now is the time to build a new, inclusive foundation for abortion access grounded in universal human rights. From Ireland to Columbia, many countries around the world are beginning to do just that. The United States can join them and create a world where bodily autonomy is a lived reality for all.”

Abortion Storytelling with GJC

To mark 50 years since the Roe v. Wade ruling that established abortion rights in the United States, our president sat down with one of our board members to discuss their personal experience with abortion and how it impacts their work.

Following in the footsteps of organizations like We Testify as well as countless pregnant people over the decades, we engage with abortion storytelling as a powerful counter against attempts to stigmatize our fundamental human right to abortion access. Featuring: Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Center Shannon Raj Singh, Board Member, Global Justice Center.

Letter on LaSalle Nomination from Gender & Reproductive Justice Organizations and Leaders

Dear Governor Hochul, Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, and State Senators:

As organizations, advocates, and scholars who work and write on issues of reproductive and gender justice, we are deeply troubled by the nomination of Justice Hector LaSalle to serve as Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals. At a moment when the federal courts have gutted rights to reproductive autonomy, New York’s highest court should be a defender of New Yorkers’ reproductive and gender freedoms, not an ally in their diminution. Given his record, which includes curtailing a New York Attorney General investigation into predatory crisis pregnancy centers — a key weapon of the anti-abortion movement — we have grave concerns for a Court of Appeals headed by Justice LaSalle.

We urge the New York Senate to reject his nomination and the Governor to nominate a jurist who will safeguard the rights of New Yorkers.

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Coming Debates to Advance New Treaty on Crimes Against Humanity Will Require Skillful Leadership

Excerpt of Just Security op-ed co-authored by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

The resolution adopted recently at the United Nations General Assembly’s legal committee on draft articles for a treaty on crimes against humanity creates a two-year process for debate and discussion of the proposal within the committee. This opens the door for the possible adoption of a new, critically needed, global treaty on crimes against humanity within the next three or four years. Such a treaty would close several gaps in the legal architecture of atrocity crimes — particularly the legal obligation to prevent crimes against humanity, a duty not imposed by complementary regimes, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the proposed Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty.

As Just Security readers will recall from previous articles, the project had been stuck for the past three years. Each year, an overwhelming majority of States voiced their enthusiastic support in the Sixth Committee. This was then followed by weeks of debate and the adoption of a disappointing resolution “taking note” of the International Law Commission’s work to produce the draft articles and placing it on the agenda for the following year. The primary culprit was not the draft articles themselves or States’ unwillingness to debate this important potential treaty. Instead, it was a product of the working methods of the Sixth Committee, which insist upon “consensus” (meaning de facto unanimity) for any concrete action to occur with respect to ILC products. As we have already noted here and here, this not only prevented any action with respect to the draft articles, but imperiled the legitimacy of the International Law Commission and the Sixth Committee itself.

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Panel: The human right to health as a gateway to other human rights

This panel was part of the Institute for Public Health's15th Annual Conference, which explored the concept of health as a human right and how health affects the enjoyment of our human rights, while lack of access to human rights can affect our health.

Featured panelists:

  • Akila Radhakrishnan, JD, President of the Global Justice Center
  • Diego Abente, MS, MBA, President and CEO, Casa de Salud
  • Jeremy Goldbach, PhD, LMSW, Masters & Johnson Distinguished Professor of Sexual Health and Education Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
  • Sherrill Wayland, MSW, Director of Special Initiatives at SAGE

Moderated by:
Leila Nadya Sadat, JD, LLM, DEA, James Carr Professor of International Criminal Law, WashU School of Law Fellow at the Schell Center for Human Rights, Yale Law School Special Adviser on Crimes Against Humanity to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor

A tale of two Supreme Courts

Excerpt of The Hill op-ed authored by GJC Legal Advisor Ashita Alag.

In a moment with major repercussions for the future of reproductive rights around the world, the Supreme Courts of India and the United States issued historic rulings on abortion only a few months apart. In the U.S., the fall of Roe v. Wade in June unleashed havoc on the country’s health care system. Yet, in India, the story has unfolded far differently.

Last month, the Supreme Court of India held that a distinction made in Indian law between married and unmarried women and their access to abortion up to 24 weeks was arbitrary and should be abolished. The ruling in the case X v. The Principal Secretary, Health & Family Welfare Department further expanded the right to abortion by clarifying that the listed set of circumstances that allow women to receive abortions up to 24 weeks under current law is not exhaustive. As a result, the right to abortion should be extended to all women who undergo a change in their material circumstances. The court further explained that this could include instances such as financial insecurity caused by losing a job or being diagnosed with a chronic illness.

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Letter Supporting Abortion Rights for Veterans Affairs Patients

Dear Under Secretary for Health Dr. Elnahal:

As organizations committed to protecting and expanding abortion access for all people, including service members, veterans, and their family members, we commend the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (“VA”) for its Interim Final Rule (“IFR”) on Reproductive Health Services. This IFR will provide essential abortion care and counseling to veterans and their family members in the midst of the current reproductive health care crisis. Access to abortion is essential to veterans’ freedom to make decisions about their health and well-being, and this IFR is a critical action toward ensuring they have control over their bodies, lives, and futures.

As a part of this country’s commitment to providing for the needs of veterans after they leave the military, VA has been directed by Congress to “promote, preserve, or restore the health” of the veterans they serve—and this includes ensuring access to abortion without political interference. Lacking access to abortion care and adequate reproductive health services can have profound impacts, including financial insecurity, increased risk of intimate partner violence, and maternal and neonatal deaths. These impacts are disproportionately felt by marginalized communities in the U.S who have long faced systemic barriers to health care—including Black, Indigenous, and people of color, low-income people, rural populations, LGBTQI people, people with disabilities, and immigrants.

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Q&A: How International Law Protects Abortion Access in the US

On June 4, 2022, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization that ended the constitutional right to abortion in the US. Following the ruling, many states have moved to ban abortion and issue new restrictions on abortion care.

This factsheet answers questions about protections for abortion under international law. Over the last few decades, multiple human rights treaties have been developed that, together, establish reproductive autonomy as a human right.

1. What human rights treaties has the US ratified?

There are nine core international human rights treaties that together establish standards for the protection and promotion of human rights. The US has ratified three: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).

These treaties are binding, and as such they require the US to comply with its international human rights obligations, one of which is ensuring access to abortion. Additionally, the US has signed but not ratified other relevant treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and has an obligation not to defeat those treaties’ object or purpose.

2. Who enforces these treaties? How do they hold the US accountable?

Implementation of the human rights treaties is monitored by treaty bodies, including the Human Rights Committee (which monitors the ICCPR), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and the Committee against Torture. Treaty bodies periodically review States parties for their compliance with their treaty obligations. The treaty bodies undertake a variety of activities, including reviewing States parties reports, issuing concluding observations and recommendations, considering complaints, and conducting inquiries. For example, in August 2022 the CERD’s concluding observations specifically called on the US to take all necessary measures — at the federal and state level — to provide safe, legal, and effective access to abortion in line with its international human rights obligations.

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Google Maps and Crisis Pregnancy Centers Sign On Letter

Dear Mr. Pichai and Mr. Phillips,

We are writing to ask that Google stop accepting advertisements from anti-abortion clinics, including Crisis Pregnancy Centers, due to their intentionally misleading and harmful impacts on people seeking reproductive health services.

As you know, the Supreme Court's ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization opened the door for states across the country to enact restrictions on abortion care, including outright bans and criminalization.

We believe Big Tech companies like Google have the power to protect their users from disinformation, misinformation, privacy intrusions, and harassment when they utilize your search and location services, including Google Maps and Google search.

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International Committee on Racial Discrimination Calls on US to Protect Abortion Rights

NEW YORK — The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today called on the United States to take all necessary measures — at the federal and state level — to provide safe, legal, and effective access to abortion in line with its international human rights obligations.

The recommendation came as part of the committee’s “concluding observations” following its review of US compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which the US ratified in 1994. For more on US obligations on reproductive rights under ICERD, see this factsheet.

The concluding observations specifically noted the recent Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, citing its “profound disparate impact on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of racial and ethnic minorities.”

The committee questioned the US government in Geneva on August 11 and 12. During this session, it raised US abortion restrictions numerous times. The members were particularly concerned about disproportionate access to safe abortion for Black, brown, and indigenous women, as well as the prosecution of those seeking abortions post-Dobbs.

Dr. Christine Ryan, legal director at the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“Make no mistake, the international community put the United States on notice today for the racist impacts of its recent regression on abortion rights. Even before the conservative majority on the Supreme Court overruled the constitutional right to abortion, they had dismantled abortion access for decades. Black, brown & indigenous women seeking abortion faced profound and disproportionate obstacles. After Dobbs, they’re facing nothing short of a gross and systemic human rights crisis.

“Today’s recommendation on abortion is well within the committee’s mandate. ICERD prohibits racial discrimination in access to healthcare and requires the elimination of laws that perpetuate racial discrimination. Abortion restrictions in the US violate these measures at every turn. Forced travel for abortion is more difficult for women of color. Coerced pregnancy is more dangerous. And criminalization will target them at higher rates.

“This is also a critical moment of international accountability for the United States. For too long, the US government has failed to fully implement the very human rights framework it helped create. The international community should take every opportunity to interrogate the state of human rights in the US and commit to reversing this damaging trend.”

Reproductive Rights Are Under Attack. Climate Change Will Make It Worse.

Excerpt of Women's Media Center op-ed authored by GJC Legal Intern Dakota Porter.

In the wake of ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court quietly limited the EPA’s power to combat climate change with their decision in West Virginia v. EPA. The decision prevents a nationwide cap on carbon emissions, allowing states with extractive industries and massive carbon outputs to go under-regulated. So, just as the court has paved the way for states to deny essential reproductive health care, it has also cemented the country’s position as one of the biggest contributors to climate change in the world.

These two cases are more connected than you may think.

Climate change, and the inevitable mass migration it has already unleashed, heightens the need for sexual and reproductive health services — the crisis is linked to higher rates of infectious diseases, gender-based violence, and disability, which all influence reproductive outcomes. Unfortunately, in the wake of natural disasters, the availability of and access to such health services is sparse or absent. When drought, floods, hurricanes, or other disasters strike, climate change strains the government’s and the humanitarian sector’s abilities to provide resources like contraception and STI testing.

As our understanding of the relationship between climate change, migration, and reproductive rights grows, it’s time we demand action that takes these intersecting harms into account.

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Letter to Biden Admin: Take Steps to Implement Exceptions for Funding of Abortion Services Abroad

Dear Secretary Blinken and Administrator Power,

As organizations dedicated to protecting and expanding global reproductive health, rights, and justice, including abortion access, we are heartened to hear that you maintain an unwavering commitment to sexual and reproductive health care. The recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court decision is a public health emergency that has and will continue to threaten the health and lives of people seeking essential health care services, not just for those in the U.S. but also for people globally. We are glad to see those in USAID and the State Department recognizing and calling out the devastation that this decision will bring worldwide and reaffirming your commitment to protect and care for those you serve.

We look forward to working alongside you in this critical endeavor towards reproductive freedom, bodily autonomy, and dignity for people worldwide. We encourage you to start meeting this commitment today by authorizing USAID reproductive health funding to the full extent of the law. Under current law, U.S. foreign assistance may not be used for abortion services as a means of family planning. This requirement, however, still allows USAID and the State Department to provide funding for abortion services in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. It also allows for abortion service information and counseling. However, USAID and the State Department do not and have never funded abortion services in these circumstances - even though they can do so without breaching any congressionally imposed limits on abortion funding.

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USAID and State Department Urged to Take Steps to Implement Exceptions for Funding of Abortion Services Abroad

More than 100 international and domestic organizations today sent a letter to the U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) urging them to end overly restrictive interpretations of law that block the use of foreign assistance funds for abortion services in any circumstance.

The Helms Amendment prohibits foreign assistance funding for abortion services as a “method of family planning.” This means abortion services can be funded in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment. However, USAID and the State Department have never funded abortion services in these contexts.

Elena Sarver, legal advisor at the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“We’ve said it for years: the president can end a devastating human rights violation with the stroke of a pen. For too long, US presidents have failed to take action to implement exceptions that permit funding of abortion care abroad in certain cases. The Biden administration can take immediate action to change that now.

“As the world’s largest provider of humanitarian aid worldwide, the US is in a unique position to deliver healthcare to those who need it most. But as a result of its incorrect interpretation of the Helms Amendment, it is routinely denying critical abortion care to victims of rape, incest, and in cases of life endangerment. In order to live up to its stated commitment to reproductive rights, the Biden administration should clarify these exceptions and implement funding for abortion in these cases.”

Key Points for the CERD Committee’s Review of the United States: Abortion Restrictions are a Form of Racial Discrimination

Abortion Restrictions violate the right to health of women of color and perpetuate racial discrimination

Women and adolescents of color disproportionately suffer as a result of abortion restrictions. 

  1. Women of color have a greater need for abortion care due in large part to the social, economic, and geographical barriers that limit access to healthcare, including contraception.

  2. Systemic racism in the US criminal legal system means that women of color face a heightened risk of criminal prosecution for abortion. Pregnant people, particularly Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous women, are already policed and criminally punished for pregnancy outcomes.
  3. Being forced to carry a pregnancy to term is especially dangerous for Black women in the US, who are three times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes. 
  4. The economic costs and unpaid care burden of forced parenting are more challenging for women of color than for white women - women of color are already more likely to live below the poverty line, receive low wages, experience unemployment and suffer labor discrimination than white women. 

US foreign policy (including the Helms Amendment) severely undermines access to abortion for women and damages the health and lives of Black and brown women in Global South middle- and low-income countries. 

Recommendations

  • Take federal and state legislative steps to guarantee effective access to affordable, legal, and quality abortion care.
  • Remove the Helms Amendment restrictions on US foreign aid to ensure that development assistance and global health funds provide safe and quality abortion care and information.

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Submission to UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: US Abortion Restrictions are a Form of Racial Discrimination

Introduction

“Racism in America is more than the fire hoses, police dogs and Alabama sheriffs you envision when you hear the words,” writes Petula Dvorak. It is also the tyranny inflicted on racialized women when they are stripped of their reproductive autonomy, shackled while giving birth, and excluded from lifesaving health care and information on cervical cancer.

This submission under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) discusses three sites of systemic racism and intersectional discrimination that oppress women of color, particularly Black women, in the United States (US): abortion restrictions, the shackling of pregnant prisoners, and racial inequalities in cervical cancer mortality. While many of the laws and practices described in this submission do not directly target women of color and are presented in facially neutral terms, they disproportionately impact the human rights of women of color. We urge the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD, or the “Committee”) to recognize the disproportionate effects of these policies on the lives of racial minorities and the racial inequalities that they perpetuate.

US abortion restrictions are a form of racial discrimination

  1. In June 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the constitutional guarantee to access abortion. As a result, more than half of US states are poised to ban abortion; as of July 7, 2022, thirteen states have already criminalized or severely restricted abortion. Anti-abortion regulations affect all women and people who can become pregnant, but health inequities and racialized socio-economic inequalities mean that it is women and adolescents of color whose disproportionately suffer.

Read the full submission

Roe Is the Past, Human Rights Are the Future

Excerpt of The Nation op-ed authored by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

All of us in the abortion rights movement have long prepared for the day Roe v. Wade would be reversed. But nothing could fully brace us for the pain of reading Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion, which categorically declared that abortion is not a constitutional right. While we took to the streets to rage and mourn the destruction of our rights, we heard from feminist allies and partners around the world—some of whom had successfully fought deeply entrenched patriarchal forces to secure historic advances for abortion rights in their country and offered lessons for our struggle. There is an immense amount to learn from them, but there is one lesson in particular to embrace: We must place human rights at the center of our demands for unfettered access to abortion.

Since the Supreme Court decided Roe in 1973, the story of abortion access in the United States has been one of steady regression. In 1976, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment to restrict the use of federal funds for abortion except in limited circumstances. This decision was upheld by the Supreme Court in Harris v. McRae, which found that that neither the federal government nor states were required to pay for abortion services—severely undercutting the realization of a constitutional right. Subsequent years saw Planned Parenthood v. Casey limit Roe through the imposition of the “undue burden” standard, Gonzales v. Carhart limit later abortions, and National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra limit regulation of anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers.” And just under 50 years after Roe, the court dealt its killing blow to abortion rights in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

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