New Report: Abortion Providers = American Human Rights Defenders, Now Under Increasing Attack

RH Reality Check also covered the issue of violence against reproductive health providers and domestic terrorism in a feature this week by Lindsay Beyerstein.

A new report by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) calls on both the federal and state governments to address the growing threats against and stigmatization and abuse of abortion providers throughout the United States.  The report is accompanied by a series of videos including interviews with providers, and an action campaign targeting Congress.

The report, Defending Human Rights: Abortion Providers Facing Threats, Restrictions, and Harassment, focuses on a key obstacle to the realization of women’s reproductive rights–the challenges faced by abortion providers–and recognizes their work as human rights defenders.  It further describes:

attacks, harassment, and discriminatory legal restrictions imposed on abortion providers in six states: Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, North Dakota, Missouri, and Pennsylvania.  It also details the pervasive stigma against abortion within the medical and general communities that allows private and government attacks to persist.

CRR underscores the human rights dimensions of access to abortion services and care as part of the broader right to reproductive health services, as agreed within the context of international human rights agreements.  While in recent years the United States has appeared to eschew the application of basic human rights principles and instruments domestically as well as internationally, the US has indeed historically been a leader both in creating and in encouraging accountability to human rights principles throughout the world.

For more than 60 years, the United States has joined most countries of the world in formally recognizing and committing to protect the fundamental human rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  These include the rights to life, equality, privacy, medical care, information, education, and freedom from discrimination.

Access to reproductive health care generally and abortion care specifically are basic human rights largely ignored within the context of US domestic politics.  At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, governments explicitly acknowledged that reproductive rights are human rights, grounded in existing human rights instruments, which include the Universal Declaration. 

These rights, as noted by CRR:

include a woman’s right to make decisions about her life and family, to access reproductive health services, and to decide when and whether to have children.  [And] in the United States, the Supreme Court recognized women’s constitutional right to abortion in 1973.

In addition, CRR points out, the United States joined the U.N. General Assembly in recognizing the special challenges faced by those who promote and defend those rights.

These courageous people are known as human rights defenders.  In the 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the General Assembly acknowledged the important role that the governments play i ensuring that they can function effectively and safely.

Despite domestic and international recognition of the rights of women and of human rights defenders:

many women in the United States face severe impediments to obtaining abortion services [and the physicians and healthcare workers acting as human rights defenders] persevere despite threats to their personal safety, harassment, attacks on their reputation, economic reprisals, and discriminatory restrictions [even as] they actively work to minimize the harm of these burdens on the women they serve.

Access to abortion in the United States has been increasingly limited due to the range of obstacles created through anti-choice advocacy.  The effect has been to increase the delays for women seeking abortion services–thereby leading to later termination of pregnancy than would otherwise be the case–and to increase the burdens for accessing abortion on low-income, rural, and minority women who have the least resources to begin with. "As a result of delays, women may only be able to obtain more costly, and potentially riskier, later abortions.  Or they may pass a clinic’s gestational limit altogether adn be forced to travel even farther to find services, assuming they are available.

The report identifies the following types of rights violations are most pervasive in limiting women’s choices and the rights of abortion providers.

  • Intimidation and Harassment: Intimidation, harassment, and violence faced by abortion providers in carrying out their work is a key violation of the rights of both women and providers.  "Anti-abortion activity at clinics runs the gamut from peaceful First Amendment-protected activities to civil and criminal offenses, with many behaviors in a legally contested area in between."  Yet "despite the government’s obligation to provide specific and enhanced protection to abortion providers, local law enforcement at many sites is uninformed, unresponsive, or even hostile."  Staff also endure picketing, stalking, smear campaigns and other threats to themselves and their families.
  • Legal Restrictions: These include mandatory delays and biased counseling, such as waiting periods and state-mandated provision of  information about abortion for which there are no medical requirements or medical indication.  Such laws are particularly burdensome to women and providers and have the greatest effect on women where there are severe shortages of providers, where women have the fewest financial resources, and where women are geographically isolated from health care writ large and reproductive health care specifically.  Other such restrictions detailed in the report include medical practices and facilities requirements also disconnected from good medical practice and funding prohibitions, such as those connected to Medicaid reimbursement.
  • Stigma: Stigma related to abortion care is pervasive in all six states covered by the report, creating needless obstacles for human rights defenders and eroding the number of providers in a community, thereby exacerbating lack of access and delays in abortion services as noted above.


The report concludes by making a series of recommendations for change at the state and local level for changes in policy and in law enforcement practices, as well as for the federal government, medical community and non-governmental organizations.  It makes a special plea for the United Nations Special Rapporteur to document violations of women’s human rights in the United States.

The full report and the Executive Summary are available for free at the link above.


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  • invalid-0

    Anyone who makes it through med school and on to medical practice is smart enough to know that this right to “privacy” abrogates someone else’s right to life. I think a less educated, less uppity group will need to be tapped to increase the ranks of abortionists–perhaps Obama’s health care reform bill can include a billion bucks for a study about an abortionist recruitment drive among Michael Vick’s friends.

  • crowepps

    And here’s someone who approves heartily of intimidation, harassment and restrictions, since without knowing anything whatsoever about the providers or the particular cases in questions, she ASSUMES that these doctors are all murderers. Do you also approve of shooting them, Lucille?

    Your use of the phrase “less educated, less uppity” was startling — is your assertion that women who are pregnant deserve substandard care and the doctors who provide that care aren’t subsurvient enough to the christianist terrorists?

  • invalid-0

    I’m just saying that the women who carp on and on about the right to kill their own child have to accept the fact that they just are not going to get the most exemplary people in their camp.

    I believe all women deserve stellar care, and that doesn’t come from abortionists, and it doesn’t include abortion.

    Be strong, ladies!! Don’t believe everything you see on TV!!

  • invalid-0

    I believe all women deserve stellar care, and that doesn’t come from abortionists, and it doesn’t include abortion.

    Um, yes it does, actually. Dr. Tiller, in particular, was very sensitive and compassionate in the care he showed for his patients.

  • crowepps

    There’s just no other way to describe someone who assumes disagreement with her position means the person is hysterical, describes women who want to protect other women’s lives as carping and believes the stereotypes that the reason doctors provide abortions is that they are lousy doctors, that women who get or support abortion rights are ‘weak’, and that women make their moral decisions based on what they see on television.


    There have been a lot of thoughtful posts here by people who have taken the time and trouble to outline, discuss and defend their different ethical opinions about the legality and morality of abortion.  This set of posts just insults strangers based on prejudice.

  • invalid-0

    which happen to be falsehoods. Instead of “thoughtfully” showing me how encouraging/helping women to kill their babies “protects their lives”, or why intelligent people of high standing would be attracted to the abortion vocation, or where, indeed, women who desperately seek abortion found their “strength”, you devolve into petulant attacks. It is all part of the same pattern…”it is not my fault”, “I shouldn’t be expected to sacrifice for anybody”, “now I have no choice except to (fill in the blank)”, “how dare you talk to me that way?”, “if not for (so-and-so), I could have a good life”, “men don’t have to worry about this”, etc. Your little world is rife with in-breeding, and you could all use a breath of fresh air, but you find it too damaging to your self-esteem.

  • invalid-0

    Sensitive and compassionate to the one, while tearing the other limb from limb. Maybe he was just a good actor.

  • invalid-0

    You come here with nothing but insults and then criticize us for not treating you with respect? We want to protect the rights of women of self-determination and bodily autonomy–that includes yours. Not that we care if you have an abortion or not, but we want all women to at least have that option open to them.

    You, like many pro-lifers, seem to live in a world of ideals, and don’t bother to look around to realize that’s not the world we live in. We don’t live in a perfect or ideal world, and trying to pretend we do isn’t going to solve anything. We have to work with what we’ve got, and that means that people will make decisions you don’t agree with. Pro-choicers merely want to allow women the ability to make their own choices, by having the options and information easily available to them. You, on the other hand, are trying to tell women how to live their lives, which is not your (or my) place.

  • crowepps

    I would suspect that you were a man posting with a female psuedonym except that I actually have met some women who display a similar  loathing for their own sex. I would be hurt by your poor opinion except that I can’t imagine ever wanting the approval of a person who would write a post like this.

  • invalid-0

    they may be, until their choices infringe upon the basic rights of others. There are many “options” that members of a civilized society do not, by right or law, have. As I AM an idealist, I favor a society that champions the rights of ALL, and is unwilling to throw the silent under the bus to enable a segment of the population that has yet to learn that not all paths are equal and that they are quite capable of using their heads to improve their own lives and concurrently be an asset to society.

  • invalid-0

    of greatness, but such underlying weakness (the inability to protect our own offspring) shows that we, as a group, apparently have a long way to go. I only loathe the position in which my sisters find themselves.

  • invalid-0

    Oh I see, the ‘suck it up and deal’ approach. If a woman can’t handle a pregnancy and child, then that’s her problem. It doesn’t matter how it might affect her or her family, or that denying her this choice subverts her own rights.

    You cannot say that you are for the rights of all humans, because by extended those rights to the unborn, the rights of the woman get stripped away (and there are some very disturbing stories noted elsewhere on this site stemming from this mentality). Not everyone believes that all life is sacred, or that a fetus should be considered a person, or even that the right of a fetus to live (assuming it has any) should trump a woman’s ability to control what happens to her own body. While I understand and (to a certain extent) respect your feelings, there is no objective evidence to say that your beliefs are correct. We’re into a philosophical domain, and people can use the same evidence to come to different logical conclusions based on their own biases. There is no way of saying that either of us is objectively right.

  • invalid-0

    If you “loathe the position in which [your sisters] find themselves” so much, then i presume you have adopted unwanted children. If not, you’re just another advocate of terrorism.