NEW YORK - October 30 - Several US state laws and regulations on
abortion chip away at every woman's right to have a safe and legal
abortion, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper released today.
The mounting obstacles to abortion services include in some states a legal
requirement to provide medically inaccurate information as part of
obligatory pre-abortion counseling. For example, some state regulations
compel doctors and nurses to say that abortion leads to breast cancer and
that fetuses feel pain throughout the pregnancy. Both claims are
"These regulations undoubtedly are a back-door attempt to curtail
women's rights. There is a direct assault on women's right to safe abortion
through deliberate misinformation," said Marianne Mollmann, advocacy
director in Human Rights Watch's Women's Rights Division.
Several US state laws and regulations on abortion may in fact contravene
Supreme Court rulings. Since 1973, the Supreme Court has consistently
held that states cannot place an "undue" regulatory burden on a woman or
girl seeking to terminate her pregnancy. But some regulations do just that,
notably where the law compels the mandatory imposition of false
States have also sought to curtail access to abortion by re-imposing
criminal sanctions for the provision of services. Most prominent is the
blanket ban on abortion in South Dakota, signed into law in March, and
subject to a state referendum during the mid-term elections next week.
South Dakota's law makes abortion illegal except when the procedure is
carried out to save the pregnant woman's life. Several other states,
including Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Louisiana and Tennessee, have moved
to enact similar legislation.
"Experience shows that criminalizing abortion does not eliminate the need
for it," said Mollmann. "Criminal sanctions only push the provision of
abortion services underground with potentially fatal consequences to the
woman. As the United States gears up for elections, I sincerely hope no
US politician favors a policy option that places women's health and lives
at real risk."
Access to abortion has also been curtailed for pregnant girls, who are
subject to additional restrictions. At present, more than 20 states enforce
parental consent laws, requiring consent from a parent before a minor may
obtain an abortion. These consent laws have serious adverse consequences
for precisely those pregnant girls who cannot rely on parental support at a
time of crisis pregnancy, and fail to ensure that the best interest of the
pregnant girl is central to decisions about abortion.
Federal legislators have moved to strengthen the enforcement of such
parental consent laws. In July, the Senate passed the Child Custody
Protection Act, a version of which had already passed as the Child
Interstate Abortion Notification Act in the House of Representatives in
April 2005. If this law enters into force, any adult - including a guardian,
grandparent, teacher or religious counselor - who helps a girl cross a state
line to procure an abortion in circumvention of state parental consent or
notification laws would be committing a federal crime.
"Fortunately, most pregnant teenagers who need an abortion find support
in their parents," said Mollmann. "But those who don't find parental
support need all the friends they can get," said Mollmann. "The Child
Custody Protection Act and its similarly draconian House version ignore
this basic truth and leave pregnant teenagers without family support to
fend for themselves."
To read the Human Rights Watch briefing paper on the United
States' restrictions on abortion and human rights, please visit: http://hrw.org/women/abortion/us.html
For more information on Human Rights Watch's work on Women's Rights, please visit: http://www.hrw.org/women/