Theses Master's

Abortion as a Human Right in the United States: Exploring the Role of CEDAW Cities in Challenging the Hyde Amendment

Pierson, Jessica

Women’s sexual and reproductive rights are foundational to gender equality. Having access to abortion care is fundamental to the full realization of a woman’s human rights. Anti-choice advocates consistently and successfully separate abortion from other basic health care that women need. At the same time, activists for gender equality often shy away from advocating for abortion care as part of their women’s rights agenda because of the political stigma that is associated with abortion. Although abortion is legal in the United States, anti-choice groups and conservative lawmakers have been successful in restricting the right to an abortion, particularly through legislation like the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funds from covering abortion care for low-income women insured by the Medicaid program. U.S. constitutional law has upheld restrictions on abortion care, leaving a large portion of reproductive age women without the ability to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion. In contrast, international human rights mechanisms have had an impact on liberalizing national abortion laws by requiring that governments take affirmative action to ensure that women can access safe abortion care as a fundamental human right. While the international community is advancing abortion as a human right, several cities have aligned themselves with an international human rights framework by adopting the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an international women’s rights treaty that the U.S. has refused to ratify at the federal level. This research aimed to discover how these cities could utilize this human rights framework to advance abortion as a human right in their communities, particularly in states that follow the federal Hyde Amendment restrictions on abortion. The research was conducted through qualitative semi-structured interviews with local activists working to pass and implement CEDAW resolutions and ordinances, people working on the Cities for CEDAW (C4C) campaign, reproductive rights professionals, and a local abortion fund. This thesis found that framing reproductive health as a human right is a paradigm shift toward destigmatizing abortion. This thesis concludes that the local CEDAW resolutions and ordinances have the power to influence state policies involving abortion. Furthermore, local CEDAW activists can instigate a political shift by embracing and utilizing the jurisprudence, General Comments, and Concluding Observations identified by the United Nations CEDAW Committee regarding abortion as a human right. The negative human rights impact of the Hyde Amendment, although law of the land, can be challenged by activists through advocacy around passing and implementing local CEDAW ordinances and resolutions.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Pierson, Jessica -Thesis.pdf Pierson, Jessica -Thesis.pdf application/pdf 1.21 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Institute for the Study of Human Rights
Thesis Advisors
Ergas, Yasmine
M.A., Columbia University
Published Here
November 2, 2018