November 02, 2018

Sens. Menendez, Blumenthal Lead Group of 31 Senators in Letter to Pompeo Opposing Elimination of Women’s Rights Report

WASHINGTON – Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) led a group of 31 senators in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo opposing the Trump administration’s decision to delete a section including reproductive rights from the Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. In the letter, which was supported by 11 prominent human rights and reproductive rights organizations, the senators strongly urged the State Department to include the reproductive rights section in its upcoming 2018 report.

The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices provide a comprehensive overview of human rights in almost 200 countries, and have previously included a detailed subsection on women’s reproductive rights. The senators stated that, “by removing the ‘reproductive rights’ subsection, the State Department has made it more difficult for Congress to gauge the human rights records of nations seeking U.S. assistance and to setting foreign policy properly.”

The senators also noted that the omission of the report would hinder the State Department’s and Congress’ mission to promote human rights around the world, and could allow “nations who propagate human rights violations that negatively affect the health and safety of women to act with impunity.”

The senators’ letter was also supported by Planned Parenthood, Center for Reproductive Rights, American Jewish World Service, Center for Health and Gender Equity, Advocates for Youth, Population Connection, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Population Institute, Catholics for Choice, PAI, International Women's Health Coalition, and International Center for Research on Women

“The erasure of reproductive rights from the State Department’s human rights report is dangerous and unacceptable and must be reversed in all future reports. Human rights are indivisible, and the State Department’s action undermines U.S. leadership on the global stage,” added Latanya Mapp Frett, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Global. “Planned Parenthood is proud to stand with our allies on and off Capitol Hill as we call on the Trump-Pence administration to restore reproductive rights to the human rights report and uphold the rights and autonomy of women in this country and around the world.”  

“We applaud the 31 Senators urging Secretary Pompeo to reverse the State Department’s unacceptable decision to delete the reproductive rights section from the Department’s annual Human Rights Reports.  Access to reproductive healthcare has been recognized as a protected human right impacting women’s right to life, health, equality, non-discrimination and freedom from cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.  Governments do not get to pick and choose whose rights will be respected.  That is why we are committed to fighting this egregious omission by suing the Department of State for documents pertaining to the Department’s decision to delete the reproductive rights section and seeking copies of the full Human Rights Reports prior to the last-minute cuts,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. 

Joining Menendez and Blumenthal in sending the letter were Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

A copy of the letter can be found here and below:

 

The Honorable Mike Pompeo

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

2201 C Street NW

Washington, DC  20520

 

Dear Secretary Pompeo:

We write today to express our strong opposition to the State Department’s deletion of the reproductive rights subsection in the 2017 annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (“Human Rights Reports”) and to urge you to include the reproductive rights subsection in all future reports. These reports provide an overview of human rights practices in nearly 200 countries, and as then- acting Secretary of State Sullivan claimed in April 2018, are “the most comprehensive and factual accounting of the global state of human rights. They help our government and others formulate policies and encourage both friends and foes to respect the dignity of all individuals without discrimination.” Unfortunately, the 2017 reports failed to live up to that standard.

Previously, the Department’s annual Human Rights Reports contained a subsection that detailed countries’ common deprivations of women’s reproductive rights, which are integral and fundamental to human rights and personal dignity. These sections detailed maternal mortality rates, unsafe abortions, denial of family planning services and information, and discrimination and violence against women in health care settings.

By removing the “reproductive rights” subsection, the State Department has made it more difficult for Congress to gauge the human rights records of nations seeking U.S. assistance and to set foreign policy properly.  The elimination of a comprehensive “reproductive rights” section effectively ignores and undermines these critical rights and allows nations that propagate human rights violations that negatively affect the health and safety of women to act with impunity.

The International Conference on Population and Development’s (ICPD) Programme of Action, which was agreed to by the United States in 1994, recognized that unreasonable restrictions or obstacles to women’s reproductive rights make it difficult for women to realize their full range of human rights. These rights include rights to life, health, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, nondiscrimination and equality, privacy, and information, among others. Empowering women, the ICPD noted, including by guaranteeing them access to reproductive health services, is the cornerstone of sustainable development programs. Since 1995 the Department, particularly through the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues has recognized the value of empowering women by ensuring access to and protection of all of their human rights, including reproductive rights. Failing to include accurate reporting on these rights will hinder the ability of the Department to fulfill its mission.

Given the importance of having a comprehensive understanding of the reproductive rights in the annual Human Right Reports, we ask that you reinstate the subsection in the upcoming 2018 Reports. Thank you for your attention to this matter and we look forward to working with you.

Sincerely,

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