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.
This January, GJC and the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) submitted a report to the HRC arguing that these illegal abortion restrictions, including the Global Gag Rule, Helms Amendment, and Siljander Amendment, violate rights to free speech and association, life, and non-discrimination, that are laid out in the ICCPR. Although not explicitly outlined in the list of issues, it is important to note that illegal US abortion policies also violate Articles 19 and 22 of the ICCPR, which protect the freedoms of speech and association.
US abortion restrictions on foreign aid 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. By censoring abortion-related speech, public debate, legislative reform, advocacy, and funding, the restrictions violate these most fundamental human rights.
These restrictions on foreign aid have been a subject of concern for human rights bodies and experts in the past. During the 2015 Universal Periodic Review of the United States, six states challenged the imposition of the Helms Amendment without an exception for rape, with particular concern aimed at the impact of rape survivors in conflict zones. Similarly, the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice expressed concern over the Helms Amendment following its mission to the United States and recommended its repeal.
Over the past two years, the Trump administration has expanded the scope of the Global Gag Rule and the application of the Siljander Amendment. Just last week, the administration used the Siljander Amendment to cut its assistance to the Organization of American States (OAS) and attempt to shut down the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, based on purely ideological grounds.
These illegal restrictions place US aid grantees in the often-untenable position of choosing between continuing to receive US funds—while eliminating essential sexual and reproductive health services—or losing US funding all together. The US must be held accountable to its obligations under the ICCPR, one of the few human-rights treaties that it has ratified.
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The Global Justice Center (GJC) is an international human rights organization, with consultative status to the United Nations, dedicated to advancing gender equality through the rule of law. We combine advocacy with legal analysis, working to ensure equal protection of the law for women and girls.