Some US states are exploiting the coronavirus crisis to restrict access to abortion, a group of independent United Nations rights experts said Wednesday.
Eight states have used COVID-19 emergency orders -- which suspend medical procedures not deemed immediately necessary -- to limit access to pregnancy terminations, said the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls.
The group singled out Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.
"We regret that the above-mentioned states, with a long history of restrictive practices against abortion, appear to be manipulating the crisis to severely restrict women's reproductive rights," said the group's vice-chair Elizabeth Broderick.
The independent experts do not speak for the UN but report their findings to the world body.
"For many women in the US, bans on abortion during this pandemic will delay abortion care beyond the legal time limit or render abortion services completely inaccessible," said Broderick.
Those who do seek termination services will be forced to travel out of state, thereby risking their own health and disregarding public health guidelines, the experts said.
"Abortion care constitutes essential health care and must remain available during the COVID-19 crisis," Broderick added.
"Restrictions on access to comprehensive reproductive health information and services, including abortion as well as contraception, constitute human rights violations and can cause irreversible harm."
The group said it was "inherently discriminatory" to women to deny them access to services only they require.
It said the move prevented women from exercising control over their own bodies and lives.
Whilst the United States backed the COVID-19 response resolution at the World Health Organization's annual assembly last week, it disassociated itself from paragraphs referring to "sexual and reproductive health" or language suggesting that abortion is included in the provision of health services.
"The United States believes in legal protections for the unborn," the US mission in Geneva said.
The working group said that access to safe and legal abortion was "essential and must remain a key component of the UN's priorities in its responses to the COVID-19 pandemic".
Broderick said the situation was "the latest example illustrating a pattern of restrictions and retrogressions in access to legal abortion care" across the United States.
The five-member working group was established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2010.
Their statement was also endorsed by two further UN experts: the special rapporteurs on the right to physical and mental health and on violence against women.