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No, states denying right to abortion isn’t ‘forced pregnancy,’ an international crime against humanity

Forced pregnancy is considered a crime against humanity by the International Criminal Court, but not when it comes to “national laws relating to pregnancy.”

Some states have implemented strict bans on abortion after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark case that federally protected the right to the procedure. 

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, people on social media, including Rep. Alexandra Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), said “forced pregnancy” is considered a crime against humanity. 

The statement has led others (here and here) to claim that abortion bans in the U.S. or individual states constitute an international crime against humanity. 

VERIFY reader Patricia also sent the team a screenshot of one of the viral tweets and asked, “Is this true?”

THE QUESTION 

Are state abortion bans in the U.S. considered “forced pregnancy,” which the International Criminal Court considers a crime against humanity?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, state abortion bans in the U.S. aren’t considered “forced pregnancy” by the International Criminal Court. The court does define “forced pregnancy” as a crime against humanity, but not when it comes to “national laws relating to pregnancy.”

WHAT WE FOUND

Forced pregnancy is defined by the International Criminal Court (ICC) as the “unlawful confinement of a woman who has been forcibly impregnated, with the intent of affecting the ethnic composition of any population or carrying out other grave violations of international law.” That definition comes from the Rome Statute, which established the ICC in 1998. 

It is one of a number of actions defined by the Statute as a crime against humanity, which the ICC has jurisdiction over. The ICC also has jurisdiction over people charged with genocide and war crimes.

“Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity,” are recognized as crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute.

The Statute was “the first binding international instrument to recognize forced pregnancy as a crime under international law,” Amnesty International says.

Forced pregnancy is only recognized by the ICC as a crime against humanity in specific contexts, including when it’s part of a “widespread or systematic attack” against civilians, and as a war crime when committed during an armed conflict, according to Amnesty International. 

Crimes against humanity, unlike war crimes, do not need to be linked to an armed conflict and can also occur in peacetime – similar to genocide, the U.N. says. But they must involve either “large-scale violence in relation to the number of victims or its extent over a broad geographic area, or “a methodical type of violence.”

RELATED: No, the UN doesn’t have the authority to charge people with war crimes

The Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, which advocates for women’s human rights within the ICC, said in 1998 that “national laws which criminalize the termination of pregnancy are not violations under international law and thus would not come within the ICC's jurisdiction.”

Though it doesn’t constitute an international crime against humanity, the U.N. has said that forced pregnancy as the result of a country’s laws violates someone’s “human right to health,” which is outlined in other treaties apart from the Rome Statute. 

In 2019, the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Economic Rights ruled that Italy’s government committed this violation after a law denied a woman the right to refuse previously agreed-to fertility treatment, which “led her to undergo a forced pregnancy.”

U.N. human rights experts have also denounced the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, writing in part that the court has “completely disregarded the United States’ binding legal obligations under international human rights law…which protects a woman’s right to life from the harmful impact of abortion restrictions.”

International human rights experts sent an amicus brief to the Supreme Court reminding them of their “binding” legal obligations, which was “completely disregarded by the Court in its decision,” they said in a statement.

Though the ICC defines forced pregnancy as part of an attack committed against civilians and during times of war, some other human rights organizations have adopted a broader definition. Equality Now, a non-governmental human rights organization, says it can also mean that a person became pregnant  “without having sought or desired it, and abortion is denied, hindered, delayed or made difficult.”

RELATED: No, abortion isn't illegal in all states now that Roe v. Wade is overturned

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