Illegal US Abortion Policy

Abortion Access in Conflict

The Global Justice Center is fighting to dismantle the United States’ anti-abortion foreign policies, which violate international law.

The Issue

In reaction to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the United States has restricted how its foreign aid money is spent when it comes to abortion services. It is well documented that policies restricting access to safe abortion services do not reduce abortion rates, but instead increase rates of unsafe abortions. The United States is violating international human rights laws by imposing restrictions, including the Helms Amendment, that deny the women and girls access to this necessary health care.

Legal Analysis

Violations of Human Rights Law

US abortion restrictions implicate a variety of rights under international human rights law. These rights include: the right to life; the right to non-discrimination; the right to information; the right to health and medical care; the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; and the right to free speech and association. Human rights bodies and experts have made clear that abortion is necessary health care for women and girls, and that restrictions to and the denial of safe abortion services violate their fundamental rights. By imposing restrictions on its aid, the US is ensuring that women and girls around the world will be unable to access care that is guaranteed to them under international law, thus denying them their fundamental human rights.

Restrictions on Abortion Related Speech and Association

The freedoms of speech and association are central to the democratic process and among the most fundamental human rights. Protected by Articles 19 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), these rights cannot be obstructed by governments unless restrictions pass a strict three-part test. US restrictions are so far-reaching that they fail this test and impermissibly limit the activities of experts and advocates providing access to and information about abortion services. As a result, the US—a country that prides itself on its democratic ideals—is violating the free speech and association rights of health care providers and advocates around the world.


GJC challenges and counters all US abortion funding restrictions as violations of international law, including the Global Gag Rule, and Helms and Siljander amendments. Following the 2016 US presidential election, GJC brought our unique expertise in international law and intersectional feminist lens to help counter the Trump administration’s anti-women, anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, and anti-international law policies and rhetoric.  We focused on highlighting and addressing the ways in which US abortion policies violate international legal obligations, including to protect the right to life, the right to non-discrimination, the right to information, the right to health and medical care, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and the right to free speech and association. GJC also focused our advocacy on encouraging states championing sexual and reproductive health and rights, especially donor countries, to stand up as standard bearers for the right to abortion and commit to filling the funding gaps resulting from US policies.

Following the election of President Biden and a new Democrat-controlled Congress, GJC is not only calling for the new administration to undo the immense harm to the multilateral system caused by the Trump administration, but to go further and establish a transformative, feminist agenda for sexual and reproductive health and rights. Aiming to build an affirmative abortion framework grounded in a human rights-based approach, GJC provides expertise and information on how US abortion policies violate international law to UN bodies, including to the Human Rights Council, the CEDAW Committee, Committee Against Torture, the Human Rights Committee, and state governments.

Key Resources