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.

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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.

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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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United States: Submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review

Summary

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. The US has failed to take any action on these 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 (or “GGR,” officially termed “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance”). It should be noted that when the GGR is in effect its repeal tends to be the sole focus of advocates and policymakers; however, it is important to highlight that the long-standing pernicious statutory restrictions, including the Helms Amendment, enable the GGR, cause their own unique harms, as well as compound those of the GGR, and their repeal must also be the subject of attention. This 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.

Download the Full Submission

There’s Nothing “Pro-Life” About Sweeping Abortion Bans

Excerpt of Ms. Magazine op-ed by GJC Communications Manager Liz Olson.  

Alabama’s sweeping abortion ban compares abortion to the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, as though the termination of a fetus is morally equivalent to the willful annihilation of a people. But it is abortion bans, not the women who seek them, that put lives at risk every day.

Legislation that criminalizes abortion access and provision does not prevent abortions—it just makes them more dangerous. The World Health Organization reports that about 25 million unsafe abortions are performed annually, primarily in regions with heavily restrictive abortion laws. Women who have unsafe abortions face serious and even fatal medical complications like heavy blood loss, infection and damage to internal organs. Unsafe abortions are even a leading cause of maternal mortality: 68,000 women die from them every year around the world.

The deadly impact of restrictive abortion policies is so well documented that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, once declared that total abortion bans “amount to a gender-based arbitrary killing, only suffered by women, as a result of discrimination enshrined in law.” 

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Coalition Sign-On Letter for House "Born Alive" Amendment

Dear Representatives,

We, the undersigned reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations, write in strong opposition to any attempts to interfere with evidence-based patient care and medical practice, such as the amendment Rep. Scalise filed with the Rules Committee to amend H.R. 986. S

The potential House vote is the latest in a series of anti-choice political stunts that are clearly intended to capitalize on the false and inflammatory rhetoric surrounding abortion later in pregnancy. President Trump used his bully pulpit to spread misinformation, shame women who need abortion care later in pregnancy, and attack healthcare providers committed to providing their patients with quality, evidence-based health care when they are making the most difficult decisions. Women and families in these situations deserve our compassion and support – not our judgment and certainly not politicians telling them what to do.

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Much More Than Language: How the US Denied Survivors of Rape in Conflict Lifesaving Care

Excerpt of Women Under Siege op-ed by GJC Deputy Legal Director Grant Shubin.  

On Wednesday, April 23, 2019, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2467 during the Council’s annual Open Debate on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence. .

After months of German-led negotiations, passage of the Resolution ultimately came down to sexual and reproductive health (SRH)—specifically, whether the U.S. would veto its inclusion in the final text.

The U.S. justified its position by claiming that SRH is a euphemism for abortion services. Not only is this not true—SRH includes, among other things, contraception, safe abortion services, HIV prevention, and prenatal healthcare—but even if it were, abortion services for survivors of sexual violence save lives.

Unsafe abortion causes the deaths of 47,000 people each year and leaves another 5 million with some form of permanent or temporary disability. They may suffer complications, including hemorrhage, infection, perforation of the uterus, and damage to the genital tract or internal organs. In fact, the consequences of denying abortion services have been found to be so severe that it can amount to torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment.

The international community cannot become accustomed or complacent to the Trump administration’s use of domestic politics to hold international rights hostage. Because it is more than just words that are given up last minute on the floor of the Security Council—it’s women’s lives.

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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.

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.