Human Rights Orgs Sue Sec. Pompeo for Unlawful Commission Designed to Redefine Human Rights, Undercut Universal Protections for Women, LGBTQI Individuals and Others

Unalienable Rights Commission Intent on Privileging Religious Freedom Over Other Rights, Appears Set to Provide Trump Administration Roadmap to Deny Equal Rights for All
Slanted Membership, Withheld Records and Closed Door Meetings Violate Federal Law

New York, NY — Today, a coalition of international human rights organizations sued the Trump administration for creating and operating the State Department's Commission on Unalienable Rights in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unlawfully created the Commission in July 2019. Since then it has been working behind closed doors to articulate a definition of human rights that is grounded in certain religious traditions and that will eliminate rights for LGBTQI individuals, restrict sexual and reproductive health and rights and remove protections for other marginalized communities across the globe. The Commission's establishment — and its mandate to fundamentally reconsider the U.S.’s commitment to human rights — represents yet another way in which the Trump administration has eroded U.S. human rights commitments and practices, both domestically and abroad. 

Democracy Forward filed today’s lawsuit on behalf of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), the Council for Global Equality, and Global Justice Center. 

“The Trump administration’s agenda is on display at the Supreme Court this week for all to see,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Our lawsuit is bringing light to their attempts to export their misogynistic and homophobic policies around the world—policies which would deny women basic reproductive health rights like access to contraceptives, would deny LGBTQI people recognition as rights holders, and would hand over who gets rights and who doesn’t to religious sects and autocrats.”  

“The Trump administration is continuing its pattern of illegally outsourcing policymaking to hand-picked groups to reach pre-determined outcomes,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “This time, Secretary Pompeo seeks to use an unlawful advisory committee to redefine human rights and undercut protections for women and the LGBTQI community across the globe, so we are suing to stop him.” 

“The State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights is just another stepping stone in the White House’s agenda to roll back well-established human rights for women and the LGBTQIA+ community. Disturbingly, this Commission includes members who have loudly opposed women’s rights and sexual and reproductive rights, but excludes the voices of those who would forcefully advocate for these rights,” said Serra Sippel, President of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE). “CHANGE objects to this unlawfully biased Commission, and is proud to join this lawsuit to hold the U.S. accountable to its commitments to human rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

“Secretary Pompeo often argues that the modern proliferation of human rights claims cheapens the currency of human rights,” noted Mark Bromley, Chair of the Council for Global Equality. “But it is this illegal Commission, with its warped use of religious freedom and natural law to deny rights, that cheapens the very notion of religious freedom and our country’s proud tradition of standing up for the rights of those who are most vulnerable.”

“Secretary Pompeo’s illegal Commission is part of the Trump administration's wider attack on a human rights system that has firmly established access to safe abortion as a protected right under international law,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center.

Secretary Pompeo established the Commission with the predetermined goal of recasting human rights based on what the State Dept. called the “founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” This terminology has previously been employed to justify curtailing human rights and, in particular, restricting reproductive freedom and rejecting equal treatment for LGBTQI individuals. Proponents of this view, like Secretary Pompeo, assert that historically marginalized communities’ successes in claiming their rights have led to a “rights proliferation,” which they claim has diluted the very meaning of rights and caused unworkable tension and chaos within the international legal system. Secretary Pompeo has crudely dismissedthe rights of historically marginalized groups as rewards for political “pet causes.”

The Federal Advisory Committee Act requires any outside advisory group that provides recommendations or advice to a federal agency maintain a balanced membership, fulfill a public interest need and operate transparently. The Commission is violating all these requirements. It is unlawfully:

  • Stacked with members who have staked out positions hostile to LGBTQ and reproductive rights, such as the belief that marriage equality is “nonsensical,” homosexuality is “one of the signs of the End Times,” and that women should not be given contraceptives to prevent transferring the Zika virus to newborns. 

  • Sidelining mainstream human rights groups, as well as career diplomats within the State Department, who have advised administrations of both political parties about U.S. human rights commitments and the role they should play in foreign policy.

  • Holding closed door meetings to conduct significant Commission business outside of the public’s view and scrutiny, including efforts to redefine human rights terminology and commitments.

  • Failing to provide adequate notice of meetings and to release key documents to the public.

Since assuming office, the Trump administration has made clear its intention to reduce the United States’ role in human rights protection overseas. The establishment of the Commission is yet another means of achieving this retreat from global human rights leadership. 

This is all the more concerning in the context of Secretary of State Pompeo’s speech to Concerned Women for America at the Trump Hotel, where Pompeo professed his personal belief that human rights should be grounded in religion rather than law: “I know where those [human] rights came from. They came from our Lord, and when we get this right, we’ll have done something good, not just I think for the United States but for the world.” 

The Commission has also spurred both concern and action from Congress. In response to the administration’s May 2019 announcement of its intent to establish the Commission, five members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations raised alarms about the Commission’s membership. The next month, more than 20 U.S. Senators wrote to Secretary Pompeo in July 2019 seeking information “as part of Congress’ role in ensuring compliance with FACA.” That same month, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel and more than 50 other Members of Congress wrote to Secretary Pompeo questioning why the Commission, which has a mission duplicative of the State Department’s own human rights office, is even necessary. Last summer, the House of Representatives passed an amendment sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline that would block the State Department from expending funds on this Commission.

The Trump administration has a record of illegally outsourcing federal policymaking. Democracy Forward obtained a court order that prevents the Department of the Interior from relying on recommendations provided by a committee — stacked with oil and gas industry insiders — that was established in violation of FACA. Similarly, Interior disbanded the International Wildlife Conservation Committee — a deceptively named trophy hunting council stacked with trophy hunters, donors to the Trump administration, and firearms manufacturer — after Democracy Forward challenged the unlawfully established advisory panel.

Faith-Based Organizations are Undermining Nepal’s Progressive Abortion Policy

By Nishan Kafle

Nepal has one of the fastest-growing Christian populations in the world thanks to the multitudes of missionary organizations — both Nepali and international — operating in every nook and cranny of the country. While proselytizing isn’t problematic in and of itself, Christian missionaries in Nepal are also bringing their anti-LGBT and pro-life worldview to their work. This is especially pernicious in a country where patriarchy is dominant and a new law guaranteeing safe and legal abortion services is in desperate need of protection.

Nepal, a predominantly Hindu country, set the standard in women’s health in Asia by legalizing abortion in 2002 when the 11th amendment bill became law. Before 2002, women in Nepal receiving abortions were subject to punitive punishment by the government and had to endure social ostracism. But even after abortion was legalized, many Nepali women, fearing social stigma, preferred to have their abortion done surreptitiously by untrained maids rather than going to state-run health clinics. Others decided not to get an abortion altogether, owing to lack of awareness, inaccessibility to clinics in remote areas and, and, in a recent development, propaganda from anti-abortion missionaries.

The Persistent Danger of Trump’s Definition of “Unalienable Rights”

Excerpt of Ms. Magazine op-ed by GJC's Elena Sarver.

The State Department’s newly formed Unalienable Rights Commission held its third public meeting today. It’s been six months since the commission was first announced in July 2019 by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but it’s important to not lose sight of the dangers this commission poses.

To start, the very existence of this group as a way to determine and define human rights fundamentally distorts and misunderstands the very nature of human rights—they cannot be limited based on the views of a single government. Further, we should be most alarmed at its obvious intent: to erode long-established human rights in service of a regressive agenda, with clear antagonism toward abortion rights in particular.

At the outset, the commission is working under a seriously flawed premise. Universal human rights norms exist to hold states accountable: they cannot be defined or redefined based on the demands of an individual administration. Especially an administration like Trump’s, which has systematically disengaged from, rejected and attempted to erode the human rights system since its inauguration.

Read the Op-Ed

"That's Illegal" Episode 12: The Commission to Undermine Human Rights

GJC's Elena Sarver and Merrite Johnson dive into the Trump administration’s new “Commission on Unalienable Rights.” The commission is stacked with socially conservative ideologues with a history of hostility to abortion rights and LGBTQ rights. Its goal? To remake human rights in the image of Trump and his regressive agenda.

Enjoy this episode? Follow us on iTunes and Soundcloud!

Canary in the Coal Mine: Abortion & the Commission on Unalienable Rights

GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan and GJC Legal Adviser Elena Sarver published this article in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review.

Abstract:

This past July, the Trump administration announced the creation of a new body with a curious name—the “Commission on Unalienable Rights.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the effort as an attempt to “ground our discussion of human rights in America’s founding principles.” However, universal human rights norms exist to hold states accountable: they cannot be defined, redefined, or limited based on the demands or viewpoints of a single government. While Secretary Pompeo claims that he wants to depoliticize human rights, this commission does the exact opposite.

The establishment of this panel is yet another offense on the international system as part of the Trump administration’s regressive agenda. This action follows a clear pattern of ideological attacks on US engagement with the human rights system and the norms they uphold. Such recent examples, as this submission will discuss in greater detail, include withdrawing from the Human Rights Council, erasing reproductive rights from human rights reports, and cutting funding to the Organization of American States in an attempt to censor abortion-related speech. Additionally, the denial of abortion care to women held in detention at the US border, the problematic nomination of Andrew Bremberg as US Ambassador to the Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, and the removal of language referencing sexual and reproductive health care in UN Security Council Resolution 2467 also fall into the administration’s pattern of undermining the importance of women’s health and bodily autonomy.

Read Full Article

 

United States: Submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review

Summary

During the United States’ (“US”) second-cycle Universal Periodic Review (“UPR”), multiple states made recommendations concerning US abortion restrictions on foreign assistance, including the Helms Amendment. The US has failed to take any action on these recommendations; in fact, in 2017 the Trump administration further entrenched and expanded the scope of these policies with the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule (or “GGR,” officially termed “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance”). It should be noted that when the GGR is in effect its repeal tends to be the sole focus of advocates and policymakers; however, it is important to highlight that the long-standing pernicious statutory restrictions, including the Helms Amendment, enable the GGR, cause their own unique harms, as well as compound those of the GGR, and their repeal must also be the subject of attention. This submission highlights continuing concerns over these US policies which impose blanket prohibitions on abortion services and speech, in violation of US obligations under international humanitarian law, international human rights law, customary international law, and UN Security Council Resolutions.

Download the Full Submission

There’s Nothing “Pro-Life” About Sweeping Abortion Bans

Excerpt of Ms. Magazine op-ed by GJC Communications Manager Liz Olson.  

Alabama’s sweeping abortion ban compares abortion to the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, as though the termination of a fetus is morally equivalent to the willful annihilation of a people. But it is abortion bans, not the women who seek them, that put lives at risk every day.

Legislation that criminalizes abortion access and provision does not prevent abortions—it just makes them more dangerous. The World Health Organization reports that about 25 million unsafe abortions are performed annually, primarily in regions with heavily restrictive abortion laws. Women who have unsafe abortions face serious and even fatal medical complications like heavy blood loss, infection and damage to internal organs. Unsafe abortions are even a leading cause of maternal mortality: 68,000 women die from them every year around the world.

The deadly impact of restrictive abortion policies is so well documented that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, once declared that total abortion bans “amount to a gender-based arbitrary killing, only suffered by women, as a result of discrimination enshrined in law.” 

Read the Full Op-Ed

Much More Than Language: How the US Denied Survivors of Rape in Conflict Lifesaving Care

Excerpt of Women Under Siege op-ed by GJC Deputy Legal Director Grant Shubin.  

On Wednesday, April 23, 2019, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2467 during the Council’s annual Open Debate on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence. .

After months of German-led negotiations, passage of the Resolution ultimately came down to sexual and reproductive health (SRH)—specifically, whether the U.S. would veto its inclusion in the final text.

The U.S. justified its position by claiming that SRH is a euphemism for abortion services. Not only is this not true—SRH includes, among other things, contraception, safe abortion services, HIV prevention, and prenatal healthcare—but even if it were, abortion services for survivors of sexual violence save lives.

Unsafe abortion causes the deaths of 47,000 people each year and leaves another 5 million with some form of permanent or temporary disability. They may suffer complications, including hemorrhage, infection, perforation of the uterus, and damage to the genital tract or internal organs. In fact, the consequences of denying abortion services have been found to be so severe that it can amount to torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment.

The international community cannot become accustomed or complacent to the Trump administration’s use of domestic politics to hold international rights hostage. Because it is more than just words that are given up last minute on the floor of the Security Council—it’s women’s lives.

Read the Full Op-Ed

UN Security Council Adopts Resolution 2467

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 23, 2019

[NEW YORK, NY] – Today, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2467 on Women, Peace and Security. Although the resolution purports to address the needs of victims of sexual violence in conflict, it contains no direct references to reproductive health—a key component of necessary and comprehensive medical care. This last-minute compromise was made to avoid a certain veto by the United States government.

United Nations Human Rights Committee Requests Information on United States Violations of Sexual and Reproductive Rights

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 3, 2019

[NEW YORK, NY] – Today, the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) challenged the United States’s restrictive abortion policies as potential violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in its list of issues prior to submission of the fifth periodic report of the United States. The Global Justice Center (GJC) commends the HRC for asking the US to provide information on the impact of the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule on women's rights under the ICCPR, including to non-discrimination and equal protection under Article 2, 3 and 26, the right to life in Article 6 and the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under Article 7.

Holistic Care for Victims of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence


By: Maryna Tkachenko

Conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) takes on various forms: rape, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, forced abortion, sexual exploitation, trafficking, genital mutilation, and other heinous forms of sexual abuse. Although both women and men can become targets of sexual violence, women constitute the majority of the victims. It has been widely recognized that all survivors experience long-lasting mental and physical harm, but women and girls have unique, gender-sensitive needs. That is why survivor-centered care is one of the main requirements in providing victims with the tools to take control of their lives. Avoiding further harm and trauma, we must treat survivors with respect for their dignity, bodily autonomy, and the choices they make. 

What does holistic, victim-centered care constitute in practice? Drawing on extensive experience as a founder of Panzi Hospital in 1999 and a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for his work to end the use of rape as a weapon of war, Dr. Denis Mukwege offers us the Panzi Model, a holistic model of care that addresses the root causes of violence against women and girls and rebuilds survivors’ lives based on principles of human rights and gender equality. This model encompasses four main aspects: psychosocial support, medical care, access to legal justice, and reintegration into communities.

Statement: Response to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's Expanded Application of Global Gag Rule and Siljander Amendment

Today, the Trump Administration launched another attack on women’s health, expanding the scope of the Global Gag Rule and the application of the Siljander Amendment. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also announced that the US will cut its assistance to the Organization of American States (OAS) based on claims that its agencies are lobbying for abortions. As a quasi-governmental body, OAS recommendations are expert guidance, not lobbying. The US is censoring free speech around the world and is using the Siljander Amendment to justify decreasing contributions to the OAS on purely ideological grounds.

The OAS and its subsidiary bodies, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, work to ensure the fundamental human rights of women and girls living in member states. Threatening these institutions’ ability to carry out their mandate through the power of the purse is both unconscionable and illegal. Over the past two weeks at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, the Trump Administration cemented the US’s new position as a government opposed to women’s rights, health and autonomy—Secretary Pompeo’s announcement today is one more dangerous step in that direction.

For more information contact:
Liz Olson, Communications Manager at Global Justice Center, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (212) 725-6530 ext. 217

US Abortion Restrictions Violate Women’s Human Rights

Excerpt of PassBlue op-ed by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan and CHANGE President Serra Sippel. 

Every year, 25 million women across the world are forced to obtain unsafe abortions. The United States, through its foreign policy, is deeply complicit in the violation of these women’s right to life and equality under international law.

International human-rights frameworks guard against these violations and hold the US and other countries accountable. The International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), for instance, details the basic rights and freedoms guaranteed to all people worldwide, including the right to life, the right to liberty and the right to equality. Such rights are not symbolic: they are grounded in the dignity of each human being and protected by international law.

Since 1966, 172 parties — including the US — have signed the ICCPR. It is one of the few human-rights treaties that the US has ratified. But today, the US imposes illegal abortion policies that brazenly violated its obligations under the Covenant and other binding provisions of international law.

Read the Full Op-Ed in PassBlue

Where Can Refugees Turn for Abortions?

Excerpt of Ms. Magazine blog post by GJC Development Director Danielle Stouck.

I first met Fatima and her four young children at a coffee shop in downtown Amman in the summer of 2014. With tears in her eyes and her youngest son asleep in her arms, she recounted the details of her harrowing escape from Syria’s southwestern Daraa province and her experience crossing the border into Jordan.

Not everyone in Fatima’s family escaped safely. Her husband and brother, she explained, were missing and presumed dead after a raid in her village had left her home and community decimated. She was alone, struggling to make ends meet and desperate for help. She and her children were traumatized. And she was pregnant.

Unwanted pregnancy occurs everywhere, but it is especially concerning in crisis settings, where displaced and refugee women are among the most vulnerable of at-risk populations. As a recent Guttmacher Institute report on refugee reproductive rights points out, “Women’s needs do not suddenly stop or diminish during an emergency—in fact, they become greater.”

When Fatima reached out to me in 2014, I was working with a Jordanian non-governmental organization to strengthen protections against sexual and gender-based violence and provide critical sexual and reproductive health services to refugees from Iraq and Syria. Fully funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, our work involved developing strong referral pathways for refugees in need of family planning support, including abortion services.

Thankfully, I was able to connect Fatima with the medical and psychosocial support that she so desperately needed. She was able to safely terminate her pregnancy and was provided with contraceptives and counseling as she worked to rebuild her life in Jordan. But five years later,  I would be barred from providing women like her with the same level of care. Under the Trump administration’s reinstatement and expansion of the dangerous and illegal Global Gag Rule, I would be “gagged”—and women like Fatima would be denied information critical to their health and their futures.

Read the Full Post at Ms. Magazine Blog

Letter to HHS: Comments in Response to Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2020

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Attention: CMS-9926-P
P.O. Box 8016
Baltimore, MD 21244-8016

Attn: Comments in Response to Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2020, CMS-9926-P

Dear Secretary Azar and Administrator Verma:

The Global Justice Center (“GJC”) submits this comment in response to the Department of Health and Human Services’ (“HHS”) Proposed Rule entitled Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2020 (the “Proposed Rule”).  For purposes of this submission, commentary is limited to the portion of the Proposed Rule that would amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”) so that private insurance providers that provide abortion services would be required to offer a version of the plan which does not cover abortion services.[1]

GJC is an international human rights organization based in New York dedicated to achieving gender equality through the rule of law. For the past decade, GJC has been at the forefront of efforts to ensure that the law protects and promotes access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health rights for women and girls around the world. As experts in women’s rights and human rights, we write to express our vehement opposition to the Proposed Rule.

First, the Proposed Rule would violate women’s fundamental human rights, including to non-discriminatory health care. Second, by singling out abortion for special treatment from all other health services, the Proposed Rule reinforces the already stigmatizing and discriminatory treatment of abortion under the PPACA. Third, the Proposed Rule uses the administrative apparatus of the Executive branch to undermine safe access to abortion services afforded by law and frustrates the intent of Congress, which has instructed under the PPACA that issuers should decide for themselves whether to provide abortion coverage beyond the limited exceptions allowed under the discriminatory and harmful federal Hyde Amendment. Fourth, the Proposed Rule imposes undue administrative burdens on insurers. The outcome, and tacit intent, of the Proposed Rule is to further stigmatize abortion and to increase administrative burdens on insurers, all with the ultimate aim of discouraging insurers from providing abortion coverage. As such, the Proposed Rule violates women’s fundamental rights under the US Constitution and international human rights law. For these reasons, GJC urges HHS to withdraw the Proposed Rule.

  1. The Proposed Rule discriminates against women and violates women’s fundamental human rights, including the right to non-discriminatory health care.

Access to abortion is a fundamental right protected under the US Constitution and international human rights law. Since its decision in Roe v. Wade,and as confirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the US Supreme Court has found that the government may not enact measures that impose an undue burden on access to abortion services. Human rights obligations binding on the US protect access to abortion under a multitude of rights—including the rights to privacy, life, and health, and the right to be free from discrimination, torture, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.[2] The realization of these rights relies on the accessibility of sexual and reproductive health care services.[3] International human rights experts have made clear that the right of every woman and girl “to make autonomous decisions about her pregnancy…is at the very core of her fundamental right to equality, privacy and physical and mental integrity and is a precondition for the enjoyment of other rights and freedoms.”[4]

The same experts have called upon states to ensure that women can “access all necessary health services, including sexual and reproductive health care, in a manner that is safe, affordable and consistent with their human rights.”[5] They highlight that many factors contribute to women being denied essential health services, including deterrence by any means.

The UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice (“WGDAW”) has made clear to the US government that under international human rights law, “states must take all appropriate measures to ensure women’s equal right to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children.”[6] The WGDAW has called on states to ensure that women can access “non-discriminatory health insurance coverage for women, without surcharges for coverage of their reproductive health,” and to “exercise due diligence to ensure that the diverse actors and corporate and individual health providers who provide health services or produce medications do so in a non-discriminatory way and establish guidelines for the equal treatment of women patients under their codes of conduct.”[7] The Proposed Rule would do the opposite; it unfairly discriminates against the provision of abortion services.

Specifically, the WGDAW has also expressed its concerns over provisions in the PPACA related to abortion following its country visit to the US in December 2015. Specifically, it noted that, “the marketplace insurance coverage for safe and legal termination of pregnancy is far from universal…[and] [t]hus, insurance will frequently not be available for women who wish to exercise their right to terminate a pregnancy.”[8] The WGDAW went on to recommend that the US government take measures to ensure that “insurance schemes provide coverage for abortions to which women have a right under US law,”[9] in order to fulfill its human rights obligations. The Proposed Rule goes directly against this recommendation and seeks to limit the opportunities for women to access safe and legal abortions.   

The Proposed Rule will limit women’s ability to access abortion services  and as such violates the US government’s obligations to ensure women’s fundamental human rights, including to  non-discriminatory health care. 

  1. The Proposed Rule stigmatizes abortion and highlights differential treatment of this single health care procedure.

International human rights experts have found that singling out abortion as a medical procedure has contributed to its stigmatization and any “[g]ender-based discrimination in the administration of medical services violates women’s human rights and dignity.”[10] They further highlight that any stigmatization of abortion by distinguishing it from all other medical procedures causes women mental and physical suffering and therefore violates their human rights.[11] The WGDAW has urged the US government “to combat the stigma attached to reproductive and sexual health care, which leads to violence, harassment and intimidation,” and denies women the highest attainable standard of health, to which they are entitled under both international human rights law and US law.[12]

The Special Rapporteur on health has found that stigmatization of abortion, through criminal or other legal regulations, “disempowers women, who may be deterred from taking steps to protect their health in order to avoid liability and out of fear of stigmatization.” These laws and regulations can also have a discriminatory effect, in that they disproportionately affect women.[13] The subsequent marginalization and vulnerability of women as a result of abortion-related stigma and discrimination perpetuate the notion that abortion is an immoral and unsafe practice, and perpetuate and intensify violations of women’s right to health.[14]

The Proposed Rule, by singling out abortion care from all other health care services, is discriminatory and violates the US government’s obligations to ensure women’s fundamental human rights.

  1. The Proposed Rule is an example of administrative overreach and frustrates, rather than fulfills, Congressional intent.

As per Congressional intent, the PPACA allows participating insurance plans to decide for themselves whether to cover non-Hyde abortion services. The Proposed Rule is an attempt, through use of the administrative apparatus of the Executive branch, to impose logistical hurdles for insurance providers who choose to provide abortion services. This is another in a long line of proposed regulations that are unnecessary to the smooth functioning of the ACA marketplace, but are, in actuality, stealth attempts to discourage the provision of abortion services.  These types of regulations, including the Proposed Rule, are examples of administrative overreach that frustrates Congressional intent and should be rejected.

  1. The Proposed Rule imposes undue burdens on insurers which will lead to unnecessary restrictions on comprehensive health care for women.

The Proposed Rule would impose burdensome and costly administrative requirements on insurers. Insurers have expressed opposition to any requirements for itemizing specific benefits, and requiring a separate plan to be provided to eliminate one specific procedure would be onerous and against standard industry practice.[15] As a consequence of these additional administrative burdens, insurers may choose not to absorb these costs and therefore will eliminate coverage for abortions.

In conclusion, the Proposed Rule violates women’s fundamental rights under the US Constitution and international human rights law, including the rights to privacy, life, and health, and the right to be free from discrimination, torture, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Compliance with these obligations is not discretionary—it is mandatory, since domestic law can never be used as an excuse for failing to comply with international treaty obligations.[16] Furthermore, the Proposed Rule unfairly singles out abortion for special treatment, which is discriminatory and will lead to stigmatization of a legal procedure.  Finally, the Proposed Rule is an example of unnecessary administrative overreach that will impose undue additional burdens on insurers and harm consumers. For the reasons stated above, we urge you to withdraw the Proposed Rule.

If you require additional information about the issues raised in this comment, please contact Michelle Onello at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Sincerely,

Michelle Onello
Senior Counsel
Global Justice Center

Download the Letter

 

[1] Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, P.L. 111-148.

[2] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Abortion, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Women/WRGS/SexualHealth/INFO_Abortion_WEB.pdf.

[3] Human Rights Comm.,General Comment No. 36 on article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to life, ¶ 8, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/GC/36  (Oct.30, 2018). See also Human Rights Comm., Concluding observations on the third period report of San Marino, ¶ 15, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/SMR/CO/3 (Dec. 3, 2015); Human Rights Comm., Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of Sri Lanka, ¶ 10, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/LKA/CO/5 (Nov. 21, 2014); Human Rights Comm., Concluding observations on the situation of civil and political rights in Equatorial Guinea, ¶ 9, U.N. Doc. CCPR/CO/79/GNQ (Aug. 13, 2004).

[4] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Joint Expert Statement on International Safe Abortion Day – Friday 28 September 2018 (Sept. 27, 2018), https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23644&LangID=E.  

[5] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Joint Expert Statement on International Safe Abortion Day – Thursday 28 September 2017 (Sept. 27, 2017), https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22167&LangID=E.

[6] Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice on its mission to the United States of America, ¶65, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/32/44/Add.2 (Aug. 4, 2016), https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/172/75/PDF/G1617275.pdf?OpenElement.

[7] Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, Policy paper, Women's Autonomy, Equality and Reproductive Health in International Human Rights: Between Recognition, Backlash and Regressive Trends (Oct. 2017),https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Women/WG/WomensAutonomyEqualityReproductiveHealth.pdf

[8] Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice on its mission to the United States of America, ¶68, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/32/44/Add.2 (Aug. 4, 2016), https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/172/75/PDF/G1617275.pdf?OpenElement.

[9] Id.

[10] International Safe Abortion Day – Friday 28 September 2018 (Sept. 27, 2018), https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23644&LangID=E

[11] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Joint Expert Statement on International Safe Abortion Day – Thursday 28 September 2017 (Sept. 27, 2017), https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22167&LangID=E

[12] Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice on its mission to the United States of America, ¶70, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/32/44/Add.2 (Aug. 4, 2016), https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/172/75/PDF/G1617275.pdf?OpenElement.

[13] Human Rights Council, Interim Rep. of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health General Assembly, U.N. Doc A/66/254 (Aug. 3, 2011)., https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/443/58/PDF/N1144358.pdf?OpenElement

[14] Id.

[15] America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), Comment Letter on HHS Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2016 (CMS-9944-P) (Dec. 22, 2014).

[16] Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties art. 27, May 23, 1969, 1155 U.N.T.S. 331; LaGrand (Ger. v. U.S.), 2001 I.C.J. 466 (June 27); Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mex. v. U.S.), 2004 I.C.J. 12, ¶ 139 (Mar. 31) (“The rights guaranteed under the Vienna Convention [on Consular Relations] are treaty rights which the United States has undertaken to comply with in relation to the individual concerned, irrespective of the due process rights under United States constitutional law.”)

International Law Demands the U.S. Do Better on Abortion Policy

Read GJC Staff Attorney Danielle Hites' post on the Ms. Magazine Blog.

Within days of assuming office in 2017, President Trump re-instated and expanded the Global Gag Rule, which restricts funding for international organizations that provide or “promote” abortions. Two years later, feminist lawmakers serving in the now Democratic-led House kicked off their own terms by attempting to roll it back.

Pending legislation to establish a budget and keep the government open beyond the three week negotiation period includes a provision that would protect NGOs from being categorically defunded, effectively rescinding the Global Gag Rule. The House spending bill would render health and medical services of such organizations, including counseling and referral services, as insufficient for the sole basis for ineligibility for U.S. funding, and allow NGOs to use non-U.S. funding with fewer regulations.

Every Republican president since Ronald Reagan has enacted some version of the Global Gag Rule, but Trump drastically expanded its scope—and magnitude of harm. NGOs receiving U.S. foreign aid are now prohibited from spending any of their funds, including funding from non-U.S. sources, on abortion-related services, referrals, counseling or advocacy. Trump’s iteration of the Global Gag Rule also applies to all U.S. global health assistance, as opposed to previous version which were centered solely on U.S. family planning funds, meaning it affects $8.8 billion of foreign aid rather than $575 million.

Read the Full Article

Censorship Exported: The Impact of Trump’s Global Gag Rule on the Freedom of Speech and Association

Joint policy brief by the Global Justice Center and the Center for Health and Gender Equality (CHANGE)

In January 2017, President Trump signed a presidential memorandum reinstating the Global Gag Rule (GGR), an onerous policy that not only limits the provision of abortion services as a method of family planning but also restricts a wide variety of speech about abortion, including information, certain types of research, and advocacy. 

Two years on, the detrimental impacts of Trump’s GGR on sexual and reproductive health, HIV and AIDS services, and maternal mortality are well documented. But the GGR, in conjunction with other US abortion restrictions on foreign aid, also violates the fundamental rights of individuals and organizations to free speech and association. This policy brief looks at the documented impacts of the GGR that have been observed over the past two years against the human rights framework protecting the fundamental freedoms of speech and association. This is an edited version of GJC and CHANGE’s submission to the Human Rights Committee’s 125th Session for the preparation of the US List of Issues Prior to Reporting.

Read the Full Analysis

Leitner Human Rights Speaker Series – Exporting Censorship: The Suppression of Abortion Speech and Information

From Jan. 29, 2019 12:30 until 13:30

At Fordham Law School, New York, NY

Global Justice Center President Akila Radhakrishnan will discuss illegal US abortion restrictions' violations of the freedoms of speech and association, including the Global Gag Rule, Helms Amendment, and Siljander Amendment.

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