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US State Department Again Ignores Women’s Reproductive Rights

Explanatory Note Can’t Make Up for Administration’s Awful Record

A woman walks past a mural on a Family Health Options clinic in the Kibera slums in Nairobi, Kenya, May 16, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

The US State Department released its annual human rights Country Reports today. For careful readers of the reports issued under the Trump administration, the glaring gaps will seem familiar.

For the past two reports, Human Rights Watch and other human rights and reproductive rights organizations have decried the Trump administration’s cutting of most mentions of key human rights abuses that disproportionately impact women and girls, including country analyses of maternal mortality and unmet contraceptive needs. It’s not just an editorial cut – this deliberate exclusion has repercussions for the promotion of women’s human rights globally.

This year, the report’s editors provided an explanatory note that tries to respond to past complaints about how these major gaps in the report obscure the human rights conditions for many women, girls, and other marginalized groups around the world. The note recognizes that discrimination can affect access to health care, employment, and other rights, but it is a cursory explanation and doesn’t make up for biased reporting on women’s rights in the individual country reports. Nor does it justify the administration’s record of curtailing women’s human rights at every opportunity.

That record is clear: From the “global gag rule” to a domestic gag rule, the defunding of United Nations Population Fund, the extraordinary threat of vetoing a UN Security Council resolution on women, peace, and security because it mentioned survivors’ sexual and reproductive health and rights, to the establishment of the Commission on Unalienable Rights that appears to directly threaten sexual and reproductive health and rights, to the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity initiative that completely disregards the need women and girls have to access health care to succeed in their own economic empowerment.

The administration is also playing an invidious role at international forums, recruiting other anti-choice governments to push back on the global consensus around sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Frankly, it is exhausting to have to continue, 25 years after the Beijing women’s conference, to fight so hard to have basic recognition that women’s rights are human rights. Individuals, organizations, and the US Congress should not relent, despite the constant assault. Without delay, the Global HER Act, repealing the global gag rule permanently, and the Reproductive Rights are Human Rights Act, requiring the State Department to report on violations of women’s reproductive rights, should be passed.

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