Lawmakers and Civil Society Pressure Department of State to Bring Back Deleted Reproductive Rights Sections in Annual Human Rights Reports

(PRESS RELEASE)--129 Members of the House of Representatives have joined with 97 Civil Society organizations calling on the Department of State to include Reproductive Rights in the Annual Human Rights Reports. 

Since 2011, the congressionally-mandated Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, issued annually by the State Department, have addressed the status of reproductive rights for 195 countries.  Each report included invaluable insights into the legality of abortion, access to contraception, freedom from discrimination and coercion in healthcare, and maternal health care. 

But this year, with no warning or justification, the State Department made a conscious decision to delete the entire reproductive rights section from all the Reports and significantly reduce reporting on prevalence and incidence of gender-based violence.

Led by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Human Rights Watch, 97 civil society organizations sent a letter to the State Department demanding that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo immediately reverse the decision to delete the entire reproductive rights section from all the Reports and to ensure that the omission is not repeated in the 2018 Human Rights Reports that are being prepared right now.

129 Democratic members of the House of Representatives, led by Representatives Katherine Clark, Nita Lowey, Eliot Engel, and Barbara Lee have also written to Secretary Pompeo to express their strong opposition to the sudden omission of reproductive rights from the most recent Human Rights Reports, which they called “highly problematic” and urged Pompeo to include the reproductive rights subsection in all future Reports.

“Governments do not get to pick and choose whose rights will be respected. Access to reproductive healthcare has been recognized as a protected human right impacting women’s right to life, health, equality, non-discrimination and freedom from cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, “The deletion of the reproductive rights section from the State Department’s annual Human Rights Reports is an unacceptable regression in the United States’ commitment to women and girls’ rights globally.”

“We are already suing the Department of State for documents pertaining to the Department’s decision to delete the reproductive rights section and seeking copies of the full Human Rights Reports prior to the last-minute cuts. We will continue to hold the State Department accountable for these egregious omissions, using the full force of the law to ensure that the U.S. Government respects that access to reproductive healthcare is a fundamental human right,” added Northup.

“The State Department’s 2017 Reports were a giant step backwards for women and demonstrated a total disregard for our safety, rights, and autonomy here and around the globe.  Documenting and reporting human rights violations is a major component of eradicating their existence.  The Trump administration cannot get away with trying to quietly tolerate these inhumanities by sweeping them under the rug,” said Congresswoman Katherine Clark (MA-5).

“The Trump Administration’s stated commitment to protect the rights of women and girls – and ensure their equality – rings hollow when the State Department fails to document and report the abuses that most impact this community,” said Amanda Klasing, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.  “Removing this language from the annual Human Rights Reports makes it seem as though the US is turning a blind eye and will embolden those who commit such abuse,” added Klasing.

“The U.S. cannot turn its back on the countless women around the world who are deprived of basic reproductive rights,” said Congresswoman Nita Lowey (NY-17), Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. “And yet, that’s exactly what the State Department is doing.  By omitting reproductive rights from its annual Human Rights Reports, the Administration is further signaling that it does not recognize women’s rights as human rights.  I urge the Administration to reverse its decision and to maintain U.S. leadership on behalf of the world’s women,” added Congresswoman Lowey.

“By erasing reproductive rights from the State Department’s Human Rights Reports, the United States has demoted women’s rights to something less than human rights.  That is dangerous and unacceptable and must be reversed in all future reports.  Human rights are indivisible, and the State Department’s action undermines U.S. leadership on the global stage.  Planned Parenthood is proud to stand with our allies on and off Capitol Hill as we call on the Trump-Pence administration to restore reproductive rights to the human rights report and uphold the rights and autonomy of women in this country and around the world,” said Latanya Mapp Frett, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Global

“The censorship of the annual Human Rights Reports sent a clear message: some human rights violations just don’t matter to the Trump Administration.  In omitting reproductive rights from these reports, the State Department rejected both transparency and the clear evidence that violations of reproductive rights gravely endanger women’s health and wellbeing.  This Administration has refused to provide a sufficient justification for this misguided decision and I hope it is reversed – but, until then, my colleagues and I are not going to stop pushing for answers,” said Congressman Eliot Engel (NY-16).

“The cuts to the State Department Human Rights Reports represent a significant backtrack for human rights by the United States. Human Rights are indivisible and universal; by refusing to report on reproductive rights, the State Department has produced an ideologically-driven document rather than a full human rights report. Sexual and reproductive rights are human rights, and, despite their efforts, the State Department cannot rewrite international law,” said Tarah Demant, Director of the Gender, Sexuality, and Identity Program at Amnesty International USA

“This omission sends a clear message: the Trump Administration does not value the health and rights of women and girls around the world. Government and private sector agencies rely on this information to prevent human rights abuses and inform funding decisions on family planning and other programs.  As a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Affairs and as Co-Chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus, I am appalled by this sudden policy change.  I urge Secretary Pompeo to stand up for women’s rights across the globe and reverse this counterproductive decision,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13).