The United Nations human rights office called on U.S. authorities Tuesday to ensure that women have access to safe abortions, saying bans lead to risky underground abortions that can endanger a woman’s life.
“We are very concerned that several U.S. states have passed laws severely restricting access to safe abortion for women, including by imposing criminal penalties on the women themselves and on abortion service providers,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told Reuters Television in Geneva.
WATCH: Bernie Sanders says banning abortion will ‘quite literally kill women’
Evidence and experience have shown that complete bans on abortions do not reduce their number, but drive them underground “jeopardizing the life, health and safety of the women concerned,” she said.
Such bans are also “inherently discriminatory,” affecting women who are poor, from minority backgrounds or other marginalized communities, Shamdasani added.
“So we are calling on the United States and all other countries to ensure that women have access to safe abortions. At an absolute minimum, in cases of rape, incest and fetal anomaly, there needs to be safe access to abortions,” she said.
The UN call came as hundreds of abortion-rights campaigners, including Democrats seeking their party’s 2020 presidential nomination, rallied in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to protest new restrictions on abortion passed by Republican-dominated legislatures in eight states.
Many of the restrictions are intended to draw legal challenges, which religious conservatives hope will lead the nation’s top court to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.
“We are not going to allow them to move our country backward,” U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, one of the two dozen Democrats running for president, told the crowd through a megaphone.
The rally is one of scores scheduled for Tuesday around the country by the American Civil Liberties Union, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and otherabortion rights group. The protests are a response to laws passed recently by Republican state legislatures that amount to the tightest restrictions on abortion seen in the United States in decades.
Missouri is one of eight states where Republican-controlled legislatures this year have passed new restrictions on abortion. It is part of a coordinated campaign aimed at prompting the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court to cut back or overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide and recognized a right under the U.S. Constitution for women to terminate pregnancies.
The most restrictive of those bills was signed into law in Alabama last week. It bans abortion at all times and in almost all cases, including when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, but allows exceptions when the mother’s life is in danger.
Anti-abortion advocates are aware that any laws they pass are certain to be challenged. But supporters of the Alabama ban said the right to life of the fetus transcended other rights, an idea they would like tested at the Supreme Court.
WATCH: Protesters march in Alabama to denounce abortion ban
Alabama passed an outright ban last week, including for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, unless the woman’s life is in danger, while other states, including Ohio and Georgia, have banned abortions absent a medical emergency after six weeks of pregnancy or after the fetus’s heartbeat can be detected, which can occur before a woman even realizes she is pregnant.
Protesters outside the Supreme Court waved signs saying “We won’t be punished” and “Protect Safe, Legal Abortion” and were joined by Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Indiana, mayor who also is vying for the 2020 nomination.
“My entire campaign is about freedom,” he said in a brief interview.
U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley also was a featured speaker, telling the crowd: “This nation was built on the backs and grown in the wombs of women, and our rights are not up for debate.”
U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican who opposes abortion, has seized on the issue as one likely to fire up his core supporters.
The restrictive new laws are contrary to the Roe v. Wade ruling, which affords a woman the right to an abortion up to the moment the fetus would be viable outside the womb, which is usually placed at about seven months, or 28 weeks, but may occur earlier.
The bans have been championed by conservatives, many of them Christian, who say fetuses should have rights comparable to those of infants and view abortion as tantamount to murder. The Supreme Court now has a 5-4 conservative majority following two judicial appointments by Trump.
A federal judge in Mississippi on Tuesday heard arguments in a lawsuit challenging the state’s new fetal-heartbeart abortion law. District Judge Carlton Reeves asked questions suggesting he thought the new law to be even more unconstitutional than the state’s 15-week abortion ban he struck down last year, USA Today reported.