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UN commissioner had some tough words about US abortion bans

Abortion bans don't stop people from terminating their pregnancies.

OXFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  Kate Gilmore speaks on stage during #BoFVOICES on November 29, 2018 in Oxfordshire, England.  (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images for The Business of Fashion)
OXFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29: Kate Gilmore speaks on stage during #BoFVOICES on November 29, 2018 in Oxfordshire, England. (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images for The Business of Fashion)

Recent state-level anti-abortion policies, including Alabama’s and Georgia’s near-total bans, amount to torture, according to a top official at the United Nations.

“We have not called it out in the same way we have other forms of extremist hate, but this is gender-based violence against women, no question,” UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore told the Guardian. “It’s clear it’s torture – it’s a deprivation of a right to health.”

This crisis was organized by well-resourced extremist groups, said Gilmore, who was appointed high commissioner in 2015.

It’s true there’s been a concerted effort by the “pro-life movement” to make it harder to access abortion. But now, anti-choice politicians are willing to say out loud what they weren’t before: that they want to outlaw all abortions. Many lawmakers are feeling emboldened because they believe they have support not only from the Trump administration but also from the Supreme Court, whose conservative majority may be willing to overturn the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which established the constitutional right to abortion.

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Gilmore isn’t the only global figure who’s spoken out against recent anti-abortion policy. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised concerns with Vice President Mike Pence about the various state bans when they met last week. Nine states have passed near-total abortion bans so far in 2019; albeit, none are in effect yet.

While state officials seek to outlaw abortion, history has shown that people will still find a way to terminate their pregnancies. Before Roe, somewhere between 200,000 to 1.2 million illegal abortions happened per year between the 1950s and 1960s, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Sometimes people died trying to terminate their pregnancies. People of color faced greater risks: abortion accounted for one in two childbirth-related deaths among Puerto Rican women, as opposed to one in four white women, during the early 1960s in New York City.

But the dangers of outlawing abortion are not simply a matter of history. Currently, in states where abortion clinics are few and far between, thanks to laws imposing harsh regulations that leading to clinic closures, low-income women and gender minorities who do not have the means to travel long distances to obtain the medical procedure are often forced to either carry their pregnancies to term or find other, dangerous ways of termination.

While modern medicine has made self-managed abortion medically safer, state laws still criminalize people who terminate an abortion themselves. Indeed, at least 20 women have been investigated, arrested, and even imprisoned for managing their own abortion.