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US Again Cuts Women from State Department’s Human Rights Reports

Trump Administration Removes Data on Global Reproductive Rights

Then-Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 13, 2018.  © 2018 Reuters

Once again, the Trump administration has cut most mentions of key human rights abuses that disproportionately impact women and girls around the world from the US State Department’s annual human rights reports.

In the reports released today, March 13th, 2019, the State Department decided to remove analysis of women’s reproductive health and rights, including country-level analysis of maternal mortality and unmet contraceptive needs.

Women’s rights are often undermined at the individual level, but aggregate data, which was previously included in these reports, can reveal terrible trends of discrimination and neglect by the state. It took decades for the human rights movement and governments to realize this, but for at least 25 years there has been broad recognition that enabling women’s reproductive rights can positively impact their other fundamental human rights. The reverse is true as well.

Maternal mortality is a great example. What was long understood as a family tragedy or a public health crisis has now slowly been recognized to be a failure of human rights obligations. Human rights investigations of maternal death have revealed that when women die from preventable pregnancy-related causes, there are likely to be policies, practices, and laws that created an environment in which their life was not valued. Too often, no one is held accountable for their death.

Yet, the Trump administration doubled down on its decision to edit these types of abuses out of the annual human rights reports, and it did so at a time when the US has adopted its own draconian policy, the Global Gag Rule, that limits assistance to foreign organizations playing a role in  providing access to women’s comprehensive reproductive health services.

Congress can and should serve as a check on the administration’s dangerous policies. Earlier this month, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) introduced the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act, a bipartisan and bicameral piece of legislation that would permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule.

The Reproductive Rights are Human Rights Act, another piece of legislation introduced on March 7, would ensure that reproductive rights are included in State Department reports. Congress mandated that the State Department release these annual reports, and Congress can mandate that they include women’s rights around reproductive health. It should move to pass these important bills.

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