Reproductive Justice and State Violence

We, the ​ undersigned local, state, and national organizations, write to you in solidarity with Black women reproductive justice advocates leading the work to ensure reproductive justice for all, which includes the ability to make decisions about our lives, bodies, sexuality, and reproduction free from interference and violence. We call on you as federal leaders representing constituents who have been directly harmed by police violence and other state sanctioned violence to support the efforts and leadership of Black women and other reproductive and racial justice leaders in each and every one of your districts and states across the country.

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Ahead of Expected July 4th Report, Human Rights Orgs Advance Case to End Sec. Pompeo’s Unlawful Commission on Human Rights

Commission Appears Poised to Reshape American Foreign Policy, Recommend Stripping Protections for Women, LGBTQ+ Communities Abroad Under Guise of Religious Freedom

In Response to Litigation, Trump Admin Releases Limited Commission Meeting Records; Continues to Shield Commission from Public View

Washington, D.C. — A coalition of human rights organizations advanced their suit against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for unlawfully creating and operating the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The Commission is expected to send its recommendations to Secretary Pompeo by July 4, 2020. The new filing comes on the heels of President Trump’s Executive Order on Advancing International Religious Freedom.

Four groups represented by Democracy Forward — Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), the Council for Global Equality, and the Global Justice Center  sued the Trump administration for stacking the Commission with members who have staked out positions that run counter to fundamental human rights principles and threaten LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights. Excluded from the Commission are the perspectives of mainstream human rights groups, as well as career diplomats within the State Department. The Commission has also operated without the transparency required by federal law.

The Commission, which was announced at a press event last July, is a project of particular and special interest to Secretary Pompeo. Its membership — comprised largely of religious liberty scholars — suggests that its true purpose is to provide the Secretary with a roadmap for prioritizing religious freedom rights over all others, a move that could lead to restrictions on reproductive freedom and the discrimination of LGBTQ+ individuals.

As the groups have argued, the Commission’s goals are “harmful to the global effort to protect the rights of all people.” In this latest filing, they further assert that: “The Commission has been unlawful since its inception. At every step of the way, the State Department has failed to operate the Commission in accordance with FACA’s requirements.”

“Accordingly,” the groups argue, “the State Department should be barred from relying on any recommendations the Commission has produced in secret.”

Secretary Pompeo’s Commission violates FACA’s requirements that outside groups that advise federal agencies on policy are in the public’s interest, have balanced membership, and make their records available to the public. Specifically:

  • Secretary Pompeo failed to articulate why the Commission is necessary and not duplicative of other government resources, like the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, which has the authority to advise the secretary on human rights policy.
  • The Secretary excluded the voices of mainstream human rights groups and career diplomats in favor of eleven academics with records of opposing LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights. Commission members have, for instance, argued that marriage equality is “nonsensical,” that homosexuality is “one of the signs of the End Times,” and that women should not have access to contraceptives to prevent transferring the Zika virus to newborns.
  • The Commission has also shielded its records from public view, making it more difficult to track its activities and know what the Commission will recommend when it sends its report to Secretary Pompeo next month.

State Department records produced in response to this litigation further substantiate how State has violated the law, including by shielding the commission from public oversight. The State Department, for instance, withheld witness remarks and video recordings of the public meetings, providing them only after this lawsuit was filed. This belated disclosure does not resolve the violation as the public lacked the benefit of the Commission’s records while it was continuing to meet publicly.

More than 20 U.S. Senators and 50 members of Congress objected to the Commission’s formation and mission. They questioned why the Commission is necessary given the Department’s internal human rights experts. Members of the Senate reiterated these concerns on May 20 and, with the anticipated July release of the Commission’s report, encouraged Secretary Pompeo to ensure the Commission’s work reaffirms the U.S.’ commitment to human rights.

The Trump administration has a long record of illegally outsourcing policymaking to outside groups in violation of federal law.

The motion for summary judgment was filed on June 2, 2020, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Read the Plaintiffs’ full brief here.

US demands removal of sexual health reference in UN's Covid-19 response

Excerpt of article from The Guardian that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Centre, said the letter was “a disgraceful and dangerous attack on essential health services at the worst possible time”.

“No matter what the US government says, abortion is a fundamental human right and reproductive care is always essential, including during a pandemic. At a time when countless lives are at risk, the US has yet again decided to put its efforts into restricting healthcare instead of expanding it.”

She said Guterres should be commended rather than “bullied” by the US administration.

Read the article

FY 2021 Appropriations - Repro Community Letter

Dear Chairman Shelby, Vice Chairman Leahy, Chairwoman Lowey, and Ranking Member Granger:

As you debate and consider fiscal year 2021 (FY 2021) funding bills, the undersigned organizations committed to advancing reproductive health, rights, and justice urge you to introduce and pass bills that promote access to reproductive health care, including abortion, and protect reproductive freedom.

As we work together to face an unprecedented national crisis and global pandemic, our country is at a juncture. Policymakers opposed to reproductive health care are exploiting this crisis to eliminate abortion access. They are building off decades of attacks, including existing restrictions in appropriations bills that have for too long denied individuals access to affordable, comprehensive health care. Now is the time to put an end to these policies. The appropriations bills for FY 2021 must instead build to the future we want where access to comprehensive health care, including abortion and birth control, is provided precisely because it is essential for people’s dignity and economic security.

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CSO letter in support of the UN and WHO

Dear Excellencies,

We are writing to register our outrage at Acting USAID Administrator John Barsa’s letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres demanding the UN remove reference to “sexual and reproductive health” from the Global Humanitarian Response Plan’s (HRP) guidance on COVID-19. The removal of this wording is not symbolic--it will have a detrimental impact on people who need and rely on sexual and reproductive health services. We are deeply concerned about the health and human rights impact of this request, which comes at the same time the U.S. Government is attacking the WHO and threatening to freeze funding in the midst of the COVID- 19 pandemic.

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'Disgraceful': US accused of using coronavirus to promote 'pro-life' agenda in letter telling UN abortion is not 'essential'

Excerpt of article from The Independent that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Centre, called the USAID's demands "a disgraceful and dangerous attack on essential health services at the worst possible time".

"No matter what the US government says, abortion is a fundamental human right and reproductive care is always essential, including during a pandemic," Ms Radhakrishnan said in a statement. "At a time when countless lives are at risk, the US has yet again decided to put its efforts into restricting healthcare instead of expanding it."

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USAID Chief Demands Abortion be Removed from UN COVID-19 Response Plan

NEW YORK — Acting Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), John Barsa, sent a letter to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres yesterday requesting references to sexual and reproductive health be removed from the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan to fight COVID-19.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, had the following response:

“This is a disgraceful and dangerous attack on essential health services at the worst possible time. No matter what the US government says, abortion is a fundamental human right and reproductive care is always essential, including  during a pandemic. At a time when countless lives are at risk, the US has yet again decided to put its efforts into restricting healthcare, instead of expanding it.

“Administrator Barsa’s attack on abortion care during COVID-19 is an extension of the longtime US strategy to hold millions of dollars in lifesaving global aid hostage to serve its extreme anti-abortion agenda. Policies like the Global Gag Rule and the Helms Amendment that restrict funding to abortion services have devastated global health for decades. Now, they’re opportunistically using a pandemic to further their efforts.

“UN Secretary-General Guterres should be commended for recognizing the importance of reproductive rights in COVID-19 response plans. Instead, he’s being bullied by a US administration hellbent on decimating reproductive health and bodily autonomy at all costs.”

MISP Letter to Acting Administrator O'Connell

Dear Acting Assistant Secretary O’Connell,

As members of the Inter-Agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises (IAWG) we are writing to thank the U.S. government for its emergency response and humanitarian assistance to the COVID-19 global pandemic and to inquire about the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health supplies and services.

We appreciate PRM’s long-standing leadership in addressing the sexual and reproductive health needs of people around the world through U.S. global health and humanitarian funding and programs. As you know, women and girls, and others who face stigma and discrimination, continue to have sexual and reproductive health needs even as crises unfold. These can include pregnancy, the desire to become pregnant, avoid unwanted pregnancy, avoid sexually transmitted infections, and prevent and respond to gender-based violence. During crises, some of these needs are more acute. We know that gender-based violence increases during crises and that gender-based violence increases the risk of acquiring HIV.

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MISP Letter to Acting Administrator Barsa

Dear Acting Administrator Barsa,

As members of the Inter-Agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises (IAWG) we are writing to thank the U.S. government for its emergency response and humanitarian assistance to the COVID-19 global pandemic and to inquire about the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health supplies and services.

We appreciate USAID’s long-standing leadership in addressing the sexual and reproductive health needs of people around the world through U.S. global health and humanitarian funding and programs. As you know, women and girls, and others who face stigma and discrimination, continue to have sexual and reproductive health needs even as crises unfold. These can include pregnancy, the desire to become pregnant, avoid unwanted pregnancy, avoid sexually transmitted infections, and prevent and respond to gender-based violence. During crises, some of these needs are more acute. We know that gender-based violence increases during crises and that gender-based violence increases the risk of acquiring HIV.

Download the Letter

Re: Request regarding Covid-19, Docket: FDA-2020-D-1106

Dear Dr. Woodcock,

We, the undersigned, respectfully request the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reconsider its limitation of the recently released Policy for Certain REMS Requirements During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (Docket FDA-2020-D-1106).

The policy waives certain Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS) requirements – namely laboratory tests and imaging – but not others. The requirements that certain drugs must be dispensed in-person by certain medical professionals provides similar burdens and risks to patients and providers as the waived requirements. Therefore, we request that in-person dispensation requirements, specifically for mifepristone, be included in this policy as temporarily waived.

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Abortion is a human right. A pandemic doesn't change that

Excerpt of CNN op-ed co-authored by GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Access to abortion is an essential service and a fundamental human right. Period. The denial of it, including in times of global crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic, constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

In the United States, the Trump administration's colossal failure to help keep people healthy and to slow the pandemic-driven implosion of the economy shouldn't come as a surprise to much of the public. He has delayed acknowledging the severity of Covid-19, prematurely hinted at an end to social distancing and over the course of his term in office, attempted to slash funding for the WHO, the CDC, and other preparedness agencies that are tasked with the monitoring of such epidemics. The list goes on and on.

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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.

Recommendation for the FY 2021 State-Foreign Operations Bill: Deletion of the reiterations of the Helms Amendment

The following endorsing organizations respectfully request that the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs remove the harmful and redundant reiterations of the Helms Amendment in the FY 2021 appropriations bill. 

The Helms Amendment prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds for “the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.” This provision hurts millions of people around the world who live in areas that rely heavily on U.S. foreign assistance in order to fund health programs by restricting the ability of individuals to make their own personal medical decisions and access comprehensive reproductive health care. Furthermore, the Helms amendment has been over-implemented as a complete ban on U.S. funding for abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, or a life-endangering pregnancy. 

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Illegal US Abortion Restrictions: Key Points for the Universal Periodic Review of the United States

Introduction

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. In addition to donor and recipient countries, these restrictions have also been the subject of concern for human rights bodies and experts. The US has failed to take any action on these state 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 (GGR).

The restrictive abortion policies include those imposed by the US Congress – the Helms and Siljander Amendments (Helms-related restrictions) – as well as the Presidentially imposed GGR. The restrictions impact different pools of money: the Helms-related restrictions dictate how US foreign aid can be spent and apply to all foreign assistance funds, while the GGR limits how funds from any donor can be spent if a foreign non-governmental organization receives US global health assistance. These restrictions not only ignore the US’s own obligations under international law, but violate a broad array of women’s rights, deny them essential services, and put their lives and well-being at risk.

The Global Justice Center’s full 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. It is long past time for the US to repeal these regressive and harmful policies, direct their aid to pursue positive health outcomes for women, and to realize women’s fundamental rights under international human rights and humanitarian law

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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.

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"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.

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