It's Time for Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Latin America

By: Sofia Garcia

In 1990, women in Argentina declared September 28th to be the Day for Legal Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean. 28 years later, we now recognize it as International Safe Abortion Day, a day where women and men all over the world take to the streets to demand access to legal and safe abortions. This day is commemorated only two days after World Contraception Day on September 26th, a day intended to improve awareness of contraception and increase sexual education among young people. Coincidentally or not, this week in September crystallizes the intersectional nature of sexual and reproductive health and rights.  In regions like Latin America and the Caribbean where women are often left behind on legislation, days like International Safe Abortion Day and World Contraception Day serve as a crucial call for governments to recognize the importance of expanding access to sexual and reproductive health and rights in tandem.

In recent years, the staggering lack of access to abortion services in the region has resulted in a greater push for the decriminalization of abortion as well as the expansion of abortion services. Six countries in the region still do not allow abortions to be performed under any circumstance. The draconian laws that govern abortion in the region have not only stigmatized discourse about abortion and sexual and reproductive health--they have also created a greater push for legalized abortion. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that, as of 2017, more than 24 million women in Latin America and the Caribbean have an unmet need for modern contraception. This means that women in the region who are having sex are either doing so without any contraception, or are using traditional methods such as the “pull out” method, which are much less effective at preventing unintended pregnancies. This, naturally, leads to a high number of unintended pregnancies. The sheer lack of access to contraception or other sexual and reproductive health services has resulted in the highest numbers of unintended pregnancies in the world, about 14 million each year. This creates a great demand for abortion services, but many countries in the region still do not allow women to make decisions regarding their bodies without legal roadblocks, stigma, or discrimination.

Proposed "Domestic Gag Rule" Violates Americans’ Right to Free Speech

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – July 31, 2018

[NEW YORK, NY] – Today marks the deadline for public commentary on the changes to the Title X Family Planning Program proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). If adopted, this domestic “gag rule” would ban health centers that receive Title X funding from providing their patients with information, referrals, access or support regarding abortion services. This rule is yet another attack by the Trump Administration on low-income and minority communities.

July News Update: GJC Fights Back Against Illegal Gag Rule

Today, the Global Justice Center submitted a formal comment to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar detailing the ways in which proposed restrictions on Title X deny women their fundamental human rights.

The proposed restrictions on Title X, announced by the White House in May, threaten to cut off funding to any health care provider that refers, provides, or even mentions abortion, which will lead to dire consequences, primarily for low-income women. Doctors will be forced to withhold information from women, even when directly asked for it, and women will need to seek information about their medical options elsewhere.

Read the Full Newsletter

May News Update: Help Us Fight Trump's Domestic Gag Rule

This week, the White House announced new restrictions on Title X that threaten to cut off funding to any health care provider that refers, provides, or even mentions abortion, leading to dire consequences, primarily for low-income women.

This dangerous policy will deny women their fundamental rights under the US Constitution and international human rights law.

After years of experience fighting against US abortion restrictions on foreign aid, the Global Justice Center has the expertise necessary to counter this new Domestic Gag Rule.

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May News Update: President Trump Puts Women at Risk With U.S. Abortion Gag Rule

The Trump administration proposed a domestic “Gag Rule” last night, banning health centers that provide, refer, support, or assist women in accessing abortion services from receiving Title X funding. This dangerous policy will deny women their fundamental human rights.

Like the Global Gag Rule reinstated by President Trump in 2017, the Domestic Gag Rule will coerce doctors into staying silent about the option to terminate a pregnancy (except in extremely limited circumstances) under threat of losing their government funding. In effect, the Domestic Gag Rule will prevent doctors from providing complete and accurate medical guidance to women. Even if a patient asks directly where she can obtain an abortion, a Title X provider will not be able to provide her with direct information in order to allow her to access her constitutionally protected right.

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Exporting Censorship: How U.S. Restrictions on Abortion Speech and Funding Violate International Law

Excerpt from Akila Radhakrishnan and Kristin Smith's blog post on IntLawGrrls

Although much attention is rightfully paid to the devastating impact of the reimposed Global Gag Rule, the Helms and Siljander Amendments (which have been permanently in place since the 1970s) often command less consideration. These restrictions are discussed separately here in order to illustrate their unique effects on freedoms of speech and association. However, Helms, Siljander and the Global Gag Rule all fall short of the ICCPR’s requirements and therefore violate freedoms of speech and association in complex ways, as examined in more detail in the Global Justice Center’s recent brief. This post explores how the Helms and Siljander Amendments fail to meet the ICCPR’s standards for lawful restrictions on the freedom of speech. Part Two will focus on the Global Gag Rule and its violation of the freedom of association.

The Helms Amendment (first enacted in 1973) provides that no U.S. funds “may be used to pay for the performance of abortions as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” In practice, U.S. government agencies have interpreted and applied the Helms Amendment as a total ban on abortion speech and services, despite the Leahy Amendment’s attempt to clarify that counseling on pregnancy options should not be considered “motivation.” U.S. application of Helms also does not include exceptions for rape, incest or life endangerment (unlike the Global Gag Rule), even though these exceptions are often covered by other legal protections (such as international humanitarian law).

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Exporting Censorship: How U.S. Anti-Abortion Policy Violates International Laws on Freedom of Speech and Association

The Global Gag Rule Violates the Freedom of Speech

U.S. abortion restrictions on foreign aid impact the freedoms of  speech and association and prevent women from accessing necessary healthcare, limit democratic debate, and restrain other countries from complying with their human rights obligations. In short, they violate international law.

U.S. Restrictions and International Law

The freedoms of speech and association are central to the democratic process and among the most fundamental human rights. Protected by Articles 19 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), these rights cannot be obstructed by governments unless restrictions pass a strict three-part test. The ICCPR requires that any restrictions on speech or association: (1) are provided by law; (2) have a legitimate aim; and (3) are necessary and proportionate to achieving that aim.1
U.S. abortion restrictions on foreign aid fail every part of the ICCPR’s test. Instead, the Helms Amendment, Siljander Amendment, and Global Gag Rule (see the Global Justice Center’s FAQ for an explanation of these restrictions)2  limit the provision of abortion services around the world and prevent individuals, organizations, doctors, and human rights advocates from speaking about abortion rights to patients, governments, and the public.  Drawing from the Global Justice Center’s brief,3  the following examples demonstrate how these restrictions violate international law.

U.S. Restrictions on Free Speech & Association: How U.S. Anti-Abortion Policy Violates International Law

The Global Gag Rule Violates the Freedom of Speech

Since 1973 and the passage of Roe v. Wade, the United States has imposed restrictions on how foreign aid money is spent when it comes to abortion. These restrictions directly impact health care providers by reducing the services and information they can give. In fact, the restrictions are so far-reaching that they also limit the activities of experts and advocates when it comes to defending abortion rights. As a result, the U.S.—a country that prides itself on its democratic ideals—is continually violating the free speech and association rights of health care providers and advocates around the world.1

How U.S. Abortion Restrictions Violate International Law

  • Limit debate on issues of public interest and advocacy on human rights.
  • Harm the democratic process of other countries by preventing the free and open discussion of abortion as a right and barring the discussion of legislative changes to make the right effective.
  • Fail to provide sufficient clarity on which speech and activities remain allowed, creating a chilling effect on speech and activities that remain permissible. 
  • Do not pursue a legitimate aim such as national security or public health. The U.S. government itself does not see these restrictions as necessary to achieving a legitimate aim, as the Global Gag Rule is regularly removed and reinstated by U.S. presidents along party lines. In fact, the restrictions threaten women’s health by decreasing access  to necessary health care services and increasing unsafe abortion rates.2

GJC President (acting) Speaks at the Feminist Majority Foundation's National Young Feminist Leadership Conference

Saturday, March 17, 2018 at 10:00 am - 12:00pm

At Washington, DC

Sponsored by the Feminist Majority Foundation, the 2018 National Young Feminist Leadership Conference will provide young activists with the opportunity to network, grow their knowledge on pertinent domestic and global feminist issues, and fine-tune their organizing methodology.  Young feminist activists from around the nation come together to discuss issues including (but definitely not limited to) reproductive justice, eco-feminism, intersectionality and identity-based activism, campus organizing tactics and methods, violence against women, ballot measures and political organizing, social media and web-based activism, and global women’s rights and health. GJC President (acting) Akila Radhakrishnan will be speaking on the harm caused by US abortion restrictions. 

Download event information

 

US Abortion Restrictions on Foreign Aid and Their Impact on Free Speech and Free Association

The United States (US) imposes restrictions on its foreign aid that limit both services and speech related to abortion. They attach to nearly all recipients of foreign aid—limiting the activities, speech, and information that can be legally provided by doctors, health professionals, experts and advocates. These restrictions violate the US’s fundamental human rights obligations to protect free speech and free association.

This brief explains the restrictions on free speech and association imposed by the US Congress (the Helms and Siljander Amendments) and by the executive branch (the Global Gag Rule [“Gag Rule” or “GGR”]). It then details the US’s human rights obligations to respect freedom of speech and association, focusing on obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ICCPR only allows for the restriction of these rights in narrow circumstances: where the restriction is adequately provided by law, where it serves a legitimate aim (such as national security or public health), and where the state demonstrates that the restriction is necessary and proportionate in achieving that aim. This brief demonstrates that the Helms and Siljander Amendments and the GGR all fail that strict test, and therefore violate US obligations to ensure and protect the rights to free speech and association guaranteed under international human rights law.

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February News Update: This V-Day, Stand With Women and Girls Raped in War

Today is the 20th anniversary of V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. On this day, GJC is focused on the women and girls raped in war who are denied lifesaving medical care.

US restrictions on foreign aid regularly deny abortion services to women and girls raped in war. The Trump administration made these restrictions exponentially worse by reinstating and expanding the Global Gag Rule.

Read the Full Newsletter

FAQ: How US Abortion Restrictions on Foreign Assistance, including the Global Gag Rule, Violate Women Rights & Human Rights

On January 23, 2017, his second day in office, President Trump issued an executive order reinstating the Global Gag Rule (“GGR” or “Gag Rule,” now termed “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance”), restricting US funding for organizations that provide abortion services as a method of family planning. The GGR joins a multitude of other restrictions on family planning and abortion imposed on US foreign assistance that permit the US government to dictate the care provided to women around the world. This FAQ explores commonly asked questions about these policies—what they are, what they mean, and their impact is—including on women’s and human rights.

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January News Update: Join us Tomorrow at the Women's March!

Join GJC this weekend as we celebrate the incredible life of our founder, Janet Benshoof.

  • This Saturday, GJC will be leading a delegation in Janet's honor at the Women's March in NYC. You can join us as we walk in Janet's footsteps. For more details and to RSVP click here.
  • This Sunday, starting at 11 AM, you can watch a livestream here of the memorial service for Janet, featuring speakers from all aspects of her life. 
  • Follow us on Twitter and Instagram for updates.

Read the Full Newsletter

GJC Weekly News Roundup

By Julia d'Amours

Chile proceeds with the repeal of its total anti-abortion laws. In August, legislation was presented to permit abortion in three cases: if the life of the mother was in danger, if it the fetus would not survive, or if the pregnancy was a result of rape. Lawyers argued that a total abortion ban was inhumane and a violation of women’s rights. Though polls indicate more than 70 percent of the population supports more lenient abortion laws, the Catholic Church and elite upper class staunchly opposed the bill. The repeal is considered a major victory in women’s rights and reproductive rights, and many hope it will lead to similar legislation in the region.

Last Friday, Kenya’s Supreme Court ruled that the re-election of the sitting president would be revisited after discovery that the vote counts had been irregular. It is the first example in Africa in which a court voided the re-election of an incumbent. Many are at unease considering Kenya’s fragile political landscape—the last disputed election in 2007 resulted in at least 1,300 dead and 600,000 displaced around the country.

On Sunday, Cambodia arrested Kem Sokha, the main opposition leader, accusing him of treason. This follows accounts of government harassment on the free press and expulsion of NGOs, such as the pro-democracy National Democratic Institute. A Human Rights Watch official called the arrest “a disastrous setback” for Cambodia as the country prepares for elections next year.

On Monday, Malala Yousafzi joined an increasing number of human rights activists in publicly criticizing Myanmar’s effective leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma. More than 73,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh after they were attacked by Burmese military factions on August 25th. The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar has described the situation as “grave.” Widely seen as a champion of democracy, Suu Kyi has remained quiet on the subject of the Rohingya.

On Tuesday, President Trump broke headlines by announcing the end of DACA—the federal program that protected nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children. He claimed DACA’s establishment was an abuse of electoral power and rebuking it would establish rule of law. Many of those enrolled in DACA already have families, started careers, or enrolled in higher education in the US. Permits that are set to expire in the next six months will be renewed, but the Department of Homeland Security will stop processing new applications for the program. Officials say there will be no formal guidance that former DACA recipients are not eligible for deportation.

On Wednesday, the Trump Administration introduced a Security Council resolution that would empower the United States Navy and Airforce to interdict North Korean ships and evaluate if their cargo contains military equipment. It also included a ban on the shipment of crude oil, petroleum, and natural gas, which would have severe results for the North Korean population as winter approaches, and aims to block the assets of Kim Jong-un. The resolution is careful not to encompass a total blockade, which is an act of war, but permits the US and UNSC to “nonconsensual inspections.”

On Thursday, a federal appeals court permitted thousands of refugees who had been blocked by President Trumps’ travel ban to enter the country. Since June, the government has frozen refugee resettlement applications and brought resettlement programs to a standstill.  Yesterday’s ruling mandated that the government resume refugee resettlements in the next five days. It also upheld a lower court decision that exempted grandparents and other relatives from the ban. A Justice Department representative remarked that they will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Also on Thursday, the High Court of Australia ruled that a postal survey on the legalization of gay marriage was legitimate, despite the objections of same-sex marriage advocates. The results of the survey could not make same-sex marriage legal or illegal, but it could spark a vote in Parliament. Polls suggest that a “yes” vote in favor of legalizing gay marriage will prevail. The results will be announced the 15th of November.

Photo by Alsidare Hickson