Mike Pompeo Is Wrong: There *Is* an International Right to Abortion

Excerpt of Ms. Magazine op-ed from GJC Program Coordinator Merrite Johnson.

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed the Geneva Consensus Declaration, a U.S.-led document that fired yet another shot across the bow at reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy. Bookended by a bizarre montage video, the signing ceremony was touted as a watershed moment in the fight against an international movement to declare a right to abortion at the expense of traditional family values.

The only problem? There very much is an international right to abortion.

The good news, at least, is the declaration is not legally binding. As reluctant as Pompeo and the rest of the Trump administration may be to follow the law, the fact remains that the United States is party to a number of human rights treaties that protect abortion rights—and adhering to these treaties is a legal requirement.

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Factsheet — Reproducing Patriarchy: How the Trump Administration has Undermined Women’s Access to Reproductive Health Care

For an in-depth analysis of the new Title X regulations (Final Rule, Domestic Gag Rule, or Domestic Gag), the impact on clinics’ participation in Title X and patients’ access to healthcare, domestic litigation challenging the restrictions, and how the Domestic Gag Rule violates the United States’ international human rights legal obligations, see the Global Justice Center and Leitner Center’s full report.

The Domestic Gag Rule is part of a broader pattern aimed at restricting access and denying women their ability to exercise their fundamental human rights

For the last four years the Trump administration has engaged in a systematic effort to undermine reproductive choice and bodily autonomy. Internationally, the Trump administration has attempted to undermine international law and institutions that protect sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and has cut funding for organizations that promote reproductive rights and services. President Trump reinstated and expanded the Global Gag Rule, limiting funding for foreign non-governmental organizations that provide abortion services as a method of family planning and restricting a wide variety of speech about abortion services, research, and advocacy, with well-documented detrimental impacts on sexual and reproductive health, HIV and AIDS services, and maternal mortality.

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International Solidarity with Women and Peaceful Protestors in Poland

As organizations committed to the advancement of human rights and gender equality, we stand in solidarity with all those in Poland who for the last week have peacefully protested against the politicized attack on women’s fundamental human rights and access to health care.

Last week Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal issued a decision purporting to invalidate a legal ground for abortion. If this decision is given legal effect it will amount to the introduction of a near-total ban on abortion in Poland.

Thousands across Poland have protested peacefully against this unlawful and retrogressive decision. We express our deep admiration for the courageous and tireless efforts of those defending the rights of women in Poland. Women’s fundamental human rights are universal. Attacks on these rights concern everyone in society and their impact transcends national borders.

We urge the Polish Government to respect the right of freedom of assembly and peaceful protest, and to exercise restraint and refrain from excessive use of force and violence. We are deeply concerned by reports that military action is being planned to suppress peaceful protests and demonstrations. We urge the EU and the international community to monitor the situation and to act with urgency to prevent violence against peaceful protestors and attacks on women human rights defenders. 

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Ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and rights in EU humanitarian aid

Excerpt of The Parliament article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Kumar emphasised that safe abortion care needs to be understood as a medical necessity, independent of the context and the reason for the abortion. Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center in New York, said that in the past ten years of their work on abortion access in humanitarian settings, there has been both great progress as well as backlash.

“Pregnant persons are still routinely denied access to safe abortion services in humanitarian settings and proactive action grounded in fundamental rights under international law - including by powerful humanitarian donors like the European Commission - is vitally needed.”

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Reproducing Patriarchy: How the Trump Administration has Undermined Women’s Access to Reproductive Health Care

Download the Full Report

Introduction

Since taking office, the Trump administration has unleashed a blitz of regressive and discriminatory laws and policies. Of the many issues under attack, few have seen similar ire and attention as sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Both internationally and domestically, the Trump administration has engaged in a broad, systematic effort to undermine reproductive choice and bodily autonomy. 

Internationally, the Trump administration has attempted to undermine international law and institutions that protect SRHR and has cut funding for organizations that promote reproductive rights and services. Within days of taking office, President Trump reinstated and expanded the Global Gag Rule, an onerous policy that limits funding for foreign non-governmental organizations that provide abortion services as a method of family planning and restricts a wide variety of speech about abortion services, research, and advocacy, with well-documented detrimental impacts on sexual and reproductive health, HIV and AIDS services, and maternal mortality. The Trump administration has attempted to erase language on SRHR from governmental and inter-governmental documents, such as in the State Department’s annual human rights report, United Nations (UN) negotiated documents, and UN resolutions.  In 2019, the United States (US) cut funding to the Organization of American States (OAS), a quasi-governmental regional body, for allegedly violating restrictions on lobbying for abortion rights by commenting on state practice on reproductive choice. Most recently, the unlawfully formed and operated State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, created to advise the Secretary of State on human rights and intended to inform US foreign policy, issued a draft report which misrepresents the nature of the international human rights framework and inaccurately frames access to abortion as a “divisive social and political controvers[y]” rather than an established right under international law. 

The Trump administration’s attacks on reproductive rights are not limited to international and foreign-policy related targets. Domestically, the Trump administration has also taken steps to erode protections for SRHR, including by targeting the Title X Family Planning program with new regulations, Compliance with Statutory Program Integrity Requirements (the Final Rule), published on March 4, 2019. The Final Rule imposes a number of new physical, financial, and administrative burdens on clinics receiving Title X funding in an effort to restrict women’s access to particular reproductive health information and services. As this report documents, the Final Rule violates fundamental human rights and the US’ obligations under international human rights law. Although the US has attempted to minimize or ignore its international human rights obligations, as shown in the recent Commission on Unalienable Rights draft document, this report reviews the substantive obligations of the US and the binding nature of these legal obligations. 

Letter Opposing Nomination of Amy Coney Barrett

We 136 organizations in support of reproductive health, rights, and justice — strongly oppose  the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The Senate should not  consider any nominee to fill any Supreme Court vacancy until after the inauguration. Whoever  fills Justice Ginsburg’s seat could spend decades being a crucial vote on a range of issues that  affect our lives -- from voting rights to health care access to employment discrimination. The  people deserve to have a voice in who is confirmed to the Supreme Court and in some states  people are already casting their votes to make that voice heard. As the COVID-19 pandemic  continues to spread throughout the United States — including now on Capitol Hill and in the  White House — we demand the confirmation process of Judge Barrett be halted. The time to  confirm the next Supreme Court Justice is not as we work to rein in our global health crisis.

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Limiting Scientific Research is Another Front in the War on Abortion

Excerpt of Ms. Magazine op-ed from GJC Special Counsel Michelle Onello.

The recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg puts reproductive rights guaranteed by Roe v. Wade in grave jeopardy. As part of its war on abortionthe Trump administration has banned scientists from using human fetal tissue (HFT) donated from terminated pregnancies in medical research.

The ban on HFT research is not only another attack on reproductive freedoms; it is limiting crucial medical advances, putting lives in danger and demonstrating the vast collateral damage unleashed by the war on abortion. Reproductive rights advocates must seize upon this dangerous politicization of medical research to forge new allies and further broaden advocacy coalitions.

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HRC 45: Joint Civil Society Statement on Abortion

In the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, States recognized that women’s rights are human rights and that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. This should have been the basis for an intersectional approach to human rights and the recognition that the denial of access to safe and legal abortion impacts all aspects of women’s lives.

Everyone has the right to life-saving interventions during or outside of crises. And yet, women and girls’ rights to bodily autonomy and safe abortion have been some of the first rights to be conveniently sacrificed under the guise of prioritizing COVID, as if health was a zero-sum game. That includes free, safe and legal abortion and comprehensive abortion and post-abortion care, without which women, girls and gender-non-conforming persons are forced to seek unsafe clandestine abortions or to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, in complete violation of our rights.

During this pandemic, some governments are increasing barriers to abortion services by deeming it a non-essential medical procedure, or are instrumentalizing the crisis to further restrict access in law or practice.  In health systems, for example, inadequate planning and the redeployment of medical personnel and resources to COVID-19 have decreased access to abortion and contraception.

See the full Letter 

Access to SRHR in EU humanitarian aid: the case of safe abortion

Description:

This webinar addresses the plight of survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and their access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) under EU humanitarian aid, in particular their access to safe abortion.

In 2015, former VP/HR Mogherini and former Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Mr Stylianides stated that “in cases where a pregnancy threatens a woman’s or girl’s life or causes unbearable suffering, international humanitarian law and/or international human rights law may justify offering a safe abortion rather than perpetuating what amounts to inhumane treatment”. The Commission has continuously reaffirmed this policy since then. However, the provision of abortion services on the ground by humanitarian health actors remains incomplete. This webinar will thus explore possible steps to ensure that the EU can continue to guarantee equality of care to survivors of armed conflict.

The EU Commissioner for Crisis Management will deliver a keynote speech and panelists will share the experiences of humanitarian organisations on the ground.

Speakers: 

Sophie in ‘t Veld (MEP), Renew Europe, Co-chair of MEPs for Sexual and Reproductive Rights

Petra de Sutter (MEP), Greens/EFA, Co-chair of MEPs for Sexual and Reproductive Rights

Janez Lenarčič - EU Commissioner for Crisis Management

Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Center

Rajat Kohsla - Senior Director, Research, Advocacy and Policy, Amnesty International

Cyprien Masaka Lepepo, Deputy Reproductive Health Coordinator, International Rescue Committee DRC

Manisha Kumar - Head of the Task Force for Safe Abortion Care , Médecins Sans Frontières

Michael Koehler, Deputy Director General, DG ECHO, European Commission

The Trump administration's war on abortion rights is worse than you think

Excerpt of The Hill op-ed from GJC Special Counsel Michelle Onello.

The Trump administration has been executing a coordinated attack on what it sees as a critical public health issue. Unfortunately, the offensive is not targeting the COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected over six million people and claimed almost 200,000 lives in the US. Instead, the campaign has its sights set on women’s sexual health and reproductive rights, especially abortion. With the recent death of Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg threatening the fate of Roe v. Wade, the security of abortion rights has never been more precarious.

The administration’s brazen anti-abortion agenda includes not only well-publicized executive actions such as the expansions of the global and domestic gag rules, “conscience” exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, and the packing of courts with anti-abortion judges.

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The Blueprint for Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice Releases First Priorities for an Incoming Administration

WASHINGTON — Today, the Blueprint for Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice released First Priorities, a detailed punch list of executive and agency actions for the opening days of an incoming administration.

First Priorities is based on the Blueprint, a bold, intersectional, and proactive policy agenda to advance sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice released last year and developed by a diverse coalition of more than 90 organizations. 

First Priorities for the Blueprint for Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice is a roadmap for an incoming administration’s first days. It lists specific actions centered around six key points and milestones:  

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."

Read the article

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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