A letter to the US Supreme Court about Roe v. Wade, from a group of United Nations human rights experts

So far, silence has been the only reply 

On 10 May 2023, a group of UN experts on human rights, nine of them Special Rapporteurs and the tenth representing the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, wrote a joint letter to the justices of the US Supreme Court. They sent the letter because they had become aware of:

“the grave and alarming deterioration in the access of women and girls to comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare, including abortion, following the United States Supreme Court decision in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and the direct and indirect violations of international human rights law as a result of the decision”.

The letter calls attention to the fact that: “millions of women and girls across the country are now subject to various and differing decisions being made by individual states on abortion policies and reproductive rights. Access to abortion is being so heavily restricted in many states that it has become largely inaccessible to women and girls, particularly minority women”.

It notes that: “The consequences of the Supreme Court decision have reverberated throughout the entire legal and policy system”, and that the judgment is:

“the first time the US Supreme Court has taken away a fundamental liberty right”.

The experts point out that:

“Any exceptions that may exist, though narrow, have proven to be unworkable in practice. The terms of the exceptions often do not correspond with medical diagnosis and in some cases exclude health-threatening conditions. The decision has also severely restricted access to reproductive healthcare, including the denial of care in cases of ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage, reduced access to contraception, preventative annual exams and to prenatal care…”

…and that it has “had a chilling effect on physicians and healthcare workers who potentially face legal ramifications for their care decisions”. In addition, they note that:

“There is credible evidence to suggest that the abortion ban has increased the likelihood of suicide, as any current exceptions to the abortion ban do not cover psychological risks to life. In this regard, it is concerning that women and girls who may attempt suicide because of an unwanted pregnancy may be charged with attempted feticide, manslaughter or murder in some States, such as in the State of Indiana”

and “increasing reports of threats to the life of abortion service providers across the country” as well.

They list all the human rights that the judgment has violated, ranging from the right to life and health of women and girls to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” by the US states who have banned abortions, especially affecting those who have become pregnant because of rape or incest.

They note that the Supreme Court has already ignored two previous letters they sent in 2021 and 2022.

They urge the US Federal government to “prevent retrogression in access to abortion in the United States and instead enact positive measures to ensure access to safe and legal abortion in order to respect, protect and fulfil the rights to life, health, including sexual and reproductive health, privacy, bodily integrity, equality and non-discrimination, and freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment”.

In an Annex to the letter, they summarise and spell out the many human rights that the US Supreme Court has violated, starting with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the USA ratified in 1992, and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by the US in 1994.

As regards the covenants and conventions the USA has not (yet) ratified, they point out that:

“While not a State party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), nor to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the United States, as signatory to both instruments since 1977 and 1980 respectively, is bound to ensure that nothing is done which would defeat the object and purpose of either treaty, pending a decision on ratification. Both treaties are relevant to this matter, given that they oblige States to eliminate discrimination against women and girls (CEDAW art. 2) and to realize the right of women and girls to the highest attainable standard of health (ICESCR art. 12). This comprises an obligation on the part of all States Parties…”

Addressing violations of the rights of women and girls in its entirety, their trampling on CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) is considered to be especially egregious.

On page 5, in closing, they request a response within 60 days. Those 60 days have now passed without a reply. As promised, the signatories have now made their letter public and have given permission for it to be shared. Please share it widely!!!


The signatories to the letter

Reem Alsalem – Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences

Gerard Quinn – Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities

Felipe González Morales – Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants

Fernand de Varennes – Special Rapporteur on minority issues

Olivier De Schutter – Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

Ana Brian Nougrères – Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy

K.P. Ashwini – Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance

Nazila Ghanea – Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief

Alice Jill Edwards – Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

Dorothy Estrada-Tanck – Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls


The full text of the letter can be accessed here. 


Summary by Marge Berer, 13 July 2023