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.

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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.

Related Resources:

 

Statement: Proposed Rule for ACA Marketplace Violates Women’s Fundamental Rights

The Global Justice Center (GJC) has submitted a comment to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging the department to withdraw the proposed rule on abortion coverage for the ACA Marketplace. The proposed rule will create bureaucratic obstacles for abortion coverage, including instituting separate payment requirements for plans that cover abortion services.

The proposed rule violates women’s fundamental rights under the US Constitution and international human rights law. Human rights obligations 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. The proposed rule would violate these protections by enacting discriminatory barriers to services needed only by women, stigmatizing abortion, and denying women access to safe affordable care, forcing them to seek out unsafe services at high risk to their health and lives.

"The outcome, and tacit intent, of the proposed rule is to discourage insurers from providing abortion coverage” says Global Justice Center Special Counsel, Michelle Onello. “It will impose onerous burdens on both insurers and consumers that aim to stigmatize abortion, embarrass women, annoy and inconvenience consumers, and increase administrative burdens on insurers.”

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

Comments in Response to Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

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, Exchange Program Integrity, published in the Federal Register on November 9, 2018 (the “Proposed Rule”).  For purposes of this submission, commentary is limited to the portion of the Proposed Rule that suggests changes related to the separate payment requirements in section 1303 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”).

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 impose undue and onerous burdens on both insurers and consumers that 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 does not, as claimed, fulfill Congressional intent, since Congressional intent under the PPACA was to allow issuers to decide for themselves whether to provide abortion coverage beyond the limited exceptions allowed under the discriminatory and harmful federal Hyde Amendment. Finally, the Proposed Rule imposes undue burdens on insurers and consumers that will lead to unnecessary restrictions on comprehensive health care for women. The outcome, and tacit intent, of the Proposed Rule is to further stigmatize abortion and to impose onerous burdens on both insurers and consumers that will embarrass women, annoy and inconvenience consumers, and 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.

Download the Full Letter

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.

President Trump Puts Women At Risk With U.S. Abortion Gag Rule

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – May 23, 2018

[NEW YORK] – 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.

March News Update: GJC Fights Back Against Trump's Anti-Choice Policies

An official appointed by Trump said during a closed-door meeting at the UN that the United States is a "pro-life country." 
Legally, it's not.

The official also tried to negotiate the removal of any references to "sexual and reproductive health" in a UN document. Every day, the Trump Administration shows its willingness to take even more radical anti-choice positions than past Republican administrations.  

Photo: Steenaire / CC BY 2.0

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Today on International Women’s Day, the Global Justice Center Presses Forward for New Rights for Women

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -March 8, 2018

[New York]– On International Women’s Day, the Global Justice Center stands with women and girls raped in conflict. As a direct result of the abortion restrictions the US puts on its foreign aid, including the Trump Administration’s expanded Gag Rule, women in conflict are regularly denied the medical care they are entitled to and need.

On the Anniversary of “She Decides,” US Must Repeal its Anti-Abortion Restrictions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -March 2, 2018

[New York]– Today marks the one-year anniversary of the day when governments all over the world came together and created the She Decides initiative to combat the impact of the Trump administration’s expanded Global Gag Rule. She Decideshas raised over $450 million to date to support women’s sexual health and reproductive rights, however estimates show that the Gag Rule may impact over $2.2 billion in funding per year.

Submission to the UN Human Rights Council for US UPR

GJC sends a mid-term report submission for the Universal Periodic Review of the United States of America. The report examines the restrictions that the US puts on foriegn aid regarding the provision of abortion services and the ways those restrictions violate international law.

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State Department Releases Flawed and Premature Review of the Global Gag Rule

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -February 9, 2018

[NEW YORK] On Wednesday, the State Department released a six-month review on the impact of the Global Gag Rule (or as the White House calls it, the “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” policy.) This review is both limited in scope and extremely premature, as insufficient time has passed to assess the impact of the policy and draw conclusions. 

Ninety humanitarian and human rights groups call on European Commission to provide abortion services to women and girls in war zones

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -November 23, 2017

[NEW YORK and GOMA]– On Saturday, the world celebrates the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In anticipation of this day, a global coalition of ninety civil society organizations calls on the European Commission to ensure that abortion, a medical procedure, is included in the medical care offered to women and girls, particularly in areas where rape is used as a weapon of war. 

Global Justice Center Applauds Senate Committee Vote Against Global Gag Rule

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - September 8, 2017

[NEW YORK, NY] – On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee moved to reinstate funding for the United Nations Population Fund and overturn Trump’s reinstatement and expansion of the Global Gag Rule. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen from New Hampshire proposed an amendment to the 2018 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill that would overturn Trump’s expanded version of the Gag Rule, reinstate US contributions to UNFPA and limit the power of any future president to reinstate the Gag Rule. The amendment was approved with the votes of two female republicans, Senator Collins from Maine and Senator Murkowski from Alaska, but still needs to pass the full senate to become law.

US Abortion Restrictions: An Explainer

President Trump’s expanded Global Gag Rule is being implemented through standard provisions issued by all affected agencies and sub-agencies, including:

Except for some small non-material language, these regulations are substantially the same across agencies. To provide context, GJC has annotated USAID’s Standard Provisions for Non-US Non-Governmental Organizations (ADS 303), which is the primary vehicle through which this censorship is being effected. These regulations also include provisions which implement other US abortion restrictions on foreign assistance, including the Helms and Siljander Amendments, which restrict the activities of all recipients of US foreign assistance.

This annotation highlights, explains and contextualizes the laws and policies that restrict or place restrictions on U.S. funding of abortion or family planning services abroad.

Background: After the US Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade (which held that the U.S. Constitution protects a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy), Congress began restricting abortion access through funding restrictions both domestically (Hyde Amendment) and abroad (the Helms Amendment). Over the years, the funding restrictions on foreign assistance have grown and now encompass all US foreign aid through their incorporation into annual appropriations acts, which are then implemented by agencies providing foreign aid, primarily USAD and the State Department. These congressional restrictions limit what can be done with US funds.

 In 1984, President Reagan expanded these restrictions on foreign NGOs through the “Mexico City Policy” (or Global Gag Rule) and began limiting with those organizations could do with their funds from any donor. The Gag Rule was rescinded by President Clinton, reinstated by President Bush, rescinded by President Obama and reinstated and expanded by President Trump.

Today, all entities receiving US foreign aid cannot speak about or provide abortions with US funds in any circumstances, including rape, life endangerment and incest. Furthermore, foreign NGOs receiving US global health assistance aid must now certify that they will not actively promote or provide abortion services as a method of family planning with funds from any donor and all NGOs receiving US global assistance funds cannot partner with or sub-grant to any foreign NGO that won’t certify the same. As a result, today, the United States is denying necessary and safe medical care to women and girls around the world in violation of their rights under international law.

This annotation seeks to demystify US abortion restrictions and map how and where they are put into place.  

Read Annotations

U.S. Continues to Prioritize Anti-Abortion Policy Over The Wellbeing of Women

By Marie Wilken

The United States recently rejected a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on violence against women because it contained language calling for access to abortion in countries where it is legal. This is yet another example of the Trump administration using international aid and laws to limit access to abortion around the world. Like the Global Gag Rule, this rejection ignores that in addition to infringing on reproductive rights, these actions have many negative ramifications that are unrelated to abortion.

After a resolution aimed at eliminating violence and discrimination against women, introduced by Canada, was adopted by consensus, the United States dissociated from the consensus because of a sentence about abortion.  While abortion was not a primary focus of the resolution, it stated that all women should have access to “comprehensive sexual and health-care services” including “safe abortion where such services are permitted by national law.” U.S. First Secretary to the U.N. in Geneva Jason Mack delivered a statement saying that the U.S. agrees with the “spirit” of the resolution but cannot endorse the paragraph on reproductive services because the U.S. does “not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance.”

This is not a singular action; its motivations and effects parallel other Trump administration policies. Congress’s new health care bill defunds Planned Parenthood—a policy that, though driven by anti-abortion sentiment, will have a much broader impact on women’s health care. This year President Trump reinstated and greatly expanded the Global Gag Rule. The administration refuses to fund international aid even loosely related to abortion, and its rejection of the UN resolution suggests it is adopting a similar approach toward international law. Because of the Gag Rule, organizations are afraid to even reference abortion out of fear of losing their U.S. funding. There is now fear that the same chilling effect to mentions of abortion and other reproductive rights will spread to international law. The Global Gag Rule, health care bill, and rejection of the UN resolution not only violate women’s reproductive rights, but all also deny women unrelated services and protections.

The United States’ resistance to international reproductive rights is dangerous. By denying women around the world safe and accessible abortion, it risks the lives of women and girls. Approximately 830 women die from preventable pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes per day. U.S. policy forces some of the world’s poorest women to choose between giving birth to a child they cannot afford to care for and seeking an unsafe abortion. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 225 million women in developing countries want to prevent pregnancy but are not using contraception, mostly due to the limited reproductive health services available.  The administration’s policies are also dangerous because of the message they send the international community about abortion and U.S. ideals. Abortion is a reproductive right, and reproductive rights are an essential aspect of women’s rights—but Mack’s statement separated abortion from other rights and reproductive health services and demonized it. He wielded United States influence over international norms to push them backwards, away from progress toward equal protection of rights.

Because of one sentence on abortion, the United States obstructed the entire resolution. In addition to attacking women’s reproductive rights, the U.S. missed its opportunity to show commitment to improving the lives women through preventing violence and eliminating discrimination. By doing so, the Trump administration reaffirmed its willingness to sacrifice women’s rights, health care, and even lives.