Illegal US Abortion Policy

This program challenges US abortion funding restrictions, including the Helms Amendment, Global Gag Rule, and Domestic Gag Rule, as violations of international law.


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.

Over the past several months, the US made clear that it planned to oppose any UN documents that referenced sexual and reproductive health care. The language was stripped from the draft resolution less than a day before it was put before the Council, in a shameful concession to US hegemony.

The German-led resolution underwent an intense drafting process as its champions worked to avoid vetoes from China, Russia, and the United States. Germany has made clear since the beginning of its membership on the Council that conflict-related sexual violence is a major priority. Though it began with an ambitious list of topics, the resolution as adopted by the Council was significantly pared back, particularly concerning women’s bodily autonomy and choice. Almost twenty years after the establishment of the Women, Peace and Security agenda, the Council finds itself unable to deliver on its promises of non-discrimination and gender equality.

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.

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

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.

Related Resources:

 

Observations and Topics to be Included in the List of Issues United States of America: US Abortion Restrictions on Foreign Assistance

With this submission, the Global Justice Center (GJC) and the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) aim to provide guidance to the pre-session Working Group in its preparation of the list of issues to be examined during the Human Rights Committee’s (“Committee”) review of the United States (US). It specifically focuses on areas of concern with respect to the US’s violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) related to sexual and reproductive rights of individuals around the world.

Read the Full Submission

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.

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).

Read the Full Post 

 

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

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

Read the Full Newsletter

Read Akila Radhakrishnan's Speech at the Feminist Majority Foundation's 2018 National Young Feminist Leadership Conference

2018 National Young Feminist Leadership Conference
March 17, 2018 Washington, DC
Text of Prepared Remarks

"I think we all remember the image of Donald Trump, on his third day in office, surrounded by a group of white men, with Mike Pence looking anxiously over his shoulder, signing an executive order stripping women and girls around the world of their access to safe abortion services. And he didn’t just do it like Presidents before him—like Regan and George W. Bush—he did it bigly.