In a new report released today, the US State Department took an important step to more fully account for reproductive rights around the world and the violations most often experienced by women and girls, which strike at the heart of dignity and human rights. Reproductive rights are internationally recognized and protected as components of and essential to the realization of fundamental human rights, including the equal rights to health, life, information, education, privacy, nondiscrimination, and protection from torture and other ill-treatment.
The State Department began reporting on reproductive rights nearly a decade ago. However, the administration of former President Donald Trump excised that section of the agency’s annual human rights reports and launched an “unalienable rights commission” that directly challenged the validity of these rights.
In this year’s report, the State Department has demonstrated a greater understanding of reproductive rights than in any previous reporting. For example, the country chapters provide information beyond reciting laws or public health data around contraceptive coverage or maternal mortality. Instead, the country chapters attempt to ascertain how well reproductive rights are realized in practice. The report acknowledges that some women, including who are women of color, ethnic minorities, or those living in rural communities, do not access even basic contraceptive care. Moreover, the report is very clear that the broad use of conscience clauses by medical providers or institutions can and does often block meaningful access to reproductive health care to many women and girls.
The State Department still has a long way to go to recognize the human rights obligations and failings of states when it comes to full realization of reproductive rights, including improving abortion access, ending preventable maternal deaths, eradicating cervical cancer, and addressing healthcare challenges for adolescents and trans and non-binary birthing people. However, this year’s report is an important first step in reflecting the realities of billions of women and girls around the world and ensuring State Department reporting is better aligned with those realities.