Are New Abortion Laws in Alabama and Ohio Defined as ‘Forced Pregnancy’ under UN Genocide Conventions?
On May 17 2019, a Facebook user shared one of several social media claims that controversial new near-total abortion bans in Alabama, Ohio, and Georgia constituted “forced pregnancy” under United Nations (UN) regulations governing the definition and handling of genocide and genocidal acts.
The post (archived here) included a screenshot from the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and a section on “Crimes Against Humanity,” adding “forced pregnancy is a crime against humanity”:
Within three days, the post had been shared more than 70,000 times. It did not outright link to the abortion laws that at the time were prompting heated social media debate, but appeared at the same time a new abortion law in Alabama was making worldwide headlines. The claim also appeared in other posts:
Not to mention a violation of international law. Forced pregnancy is a crime against humanity, like genocide. https://t.co/CCJECB2at1 pic.twitter.com/5iisbZqLLG
— From Normaltown (@notsonormaltown) May 18, 2019
In an entirely separate controversy, similar claims about genocidal political policy in the United States appeared in relation to the Trump administration’s widely-decried policy of family separation.
However, claims about “forced pregnancy” around American abortion laws were not as clear-cut as the previous iteration involving family separation. A “Crimes Against Humanity” page on the United Nations’ Office on Genocide Prevention references the 1998 Rome Statute establishing an International Criminal Court as a guide to defining such acts relevant to the purposes of genocide:
Crimes against humanity have not yet been codified in a dedicated treaty of international law, unlike genocide and war crimes, although there are efforts to do so. Despite this, the prohibition of crimes against humanity, similar to the prohibition of genocide, has been considered a peremptory norm of international law, from which no derogation is permitted and which is applicable to all States.
The 1998 Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute) is the document that reflects the latest consensus among the international community on this matter. It is also the treaty that offers the most extensive list of specific acts that may constitute the crime.
In a separate portion, the term “forced pregnancy” appears as one definition of genocidal activity:
Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity[.]
A related page on War Crimes references article 7, paragraph 2 (f) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court [PDF] for its definition of “forced pregnancy.” That definition is pursuant to paragraph 1, which reads:
For the purpose of this Statute, “crime against humanity” means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack[.]
Article 7, paragraph 2 (f) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court explicitly defines “forced pregnancy” as it relates to genocide under international criminal codes:
“Forced pregnancy” means the unlawful confinement of a woman forcibly made pregnant, with the intent of affecting the ethnic composition of any population or carrying out other grave violations of international law. This definition shall not in any way be interpreted as affecting national laws relating to pregnancy[.]
A December 2017 article in the Journal of International Criminal Justice examined a landmark International Criminal Court (ICC) case involving forced pregnancy as an act of genocide in the context of reproductive and sexual violence:
Reproductive violence, as distinct from the related issue of sexual violence, is yet to be truly ‘surfaced’ in international criminal law. Yet, this kind of violence has long been a feature of war, and is repugnant to the values that international criminal law protects. The Ongwen case, which commenced trial in the International Criminal Court in December 2016, is a step forward in this regard. Not only is this the first case in any international criminal court to include charges of ‘forced pregnancy’; it is also one of the only cases in which reproductive violence outside the context of genocide or ‘ethnic cleansing’ has been understood as a crime under international law.
Although it’s true that “forced pregnancy” appears under United Nations’ genocide definitions and is codified as a crime against humanity in the Rome Statute, that definition did not appear to relate to United States laws essentially prohibiting all abortions in some states. The definition for “forced pregnancy” in a genocidal sense entails individuals “forcibly made pregnant” with the intent of “affecting the ethnic composition of any population or carrying out other grave violations of international law.” Further, the following sentence exempted “national laws relating to pregnancy,” under which abortion bans would presumably fall.