Each spring, the U.S. Department of State submits to Congress and the President a report–officially titled “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” or Human Rights Reports–detailing the status of human rights in nearly 150 countries around the world. In 2010, as a result of advocacy by the Center for Reproductive Rights and its coalition partners, the State Department began to include comprehensive reporting on the status of reproductive rights.
However, in 2018, the Trump administration’s State Department eliminated that comprehensive reporting—as part of its systemic effort to reject and erase reproductive rights as human rights. While Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in March that the Biden-Harris administration would restore reporting on sexual and reproductive rights to the Human Rights Reports, the Trump administration’s action made clear the need for legislation to mandate this reporting going forward.
The Reproductive Rights are Human Rights Act–introduced today in Congress—would ensure that the State Department, regardless of administration, is required to report on the status of sexual and reproductive rights in the Human Rights Reports. The bills were introduced by Senators Robert Menendez(D-NJ), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Representatives Katherine Clark (MA-05), Gregory Meeks (NY-05), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Lois Frankel (FL-21), Grace Meng (NY-06), Norma Torres (CA-35), and Sara Jacobs (CA-53).
The Human Rights Reports are required to cover “internationally recognized individual, civil, political, and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements.” This legislation explicitly mandates the State Department to report on reproductive rights in a way that aligns with established international human rights obligations. If enacted, the bill would require reporting on:
- Access to abortion, contraception, and family planning information;
- Access to safe, respectful maternity care;
- Rates of preventable pregnancy related deaths and injuries, including disaggregated data to understand if marginalized communities are disproportionately impacted; and
- Information on systemic forms of reproductive coercion, including coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, coerced pregnancy, and obstetric violence.
As part of its work to promote reproductive rights throughout the world, the Center for Reproductive Rights worked with House and Senate leads and a coalition of global health, rights, and justice organizations to provide technical expertise and garner support for this important legislation.
“Lack of access to quality reproductive health care—including contraception, abortion and maternal health care— creates a barrier toward equal participation in society, compounding inequalities and imposing harsh burdens on marginalized communities experiencing intersecting forms of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, disability, age, and income,” said Risa E. Kaufman, Director of U.S. Human Rights for the Center. “Thorough and accurate human rights reporting is vital to the U.S. government. Agencies that oversee global health programs must have the most relevant and necessary information in order to improve equitable access to quality sexual and reproductive health care worldwide. The reports are also a powerful accountability tool used by lawyers, judges, advocates, policy makers, and civil society.”
Trump Administration Erased State Department Reporting on Reproductive Rights
The Human Rights Reports provide comprehensive analysis regularly used by Congress, other branches of the U.S. government, academics and researchers, human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society organizations, as well as other governments. Promoting human rights and democratic governance is a core element of U.S. foreign policy and the reports demonstrate the U.S.’s commitment to advancing liberty, human dignity, and global prosperity.
By eliminating the section on reproductive rights in the State Department’s reports, the Trump administration deleted vital reporting on the lack of reproductive freedom and access worldwide, including rates of unsafe abortion, data on maternal mortality, denial of family planning information, and research on discrimination and violence against women in health care settings.
The country reports for 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 excluded reproductive rights sections, and limited reporting only to coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization.
Earlier this year, the Biden-Harris administration announced that it will release an addendum to the 2020 report covering the status of sexual and reproductive rights. It also committed that the State Department will be resuming reporting on those rights moving forward. The Center’s federal policy and advocacy team provided input on future reporting requirements during a virtual roundtable with the State Department.
“We look forward to working with Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration on its efforts to promote and advance sexual and reproductive rights as human rights,” said Vandana Ranjan, Senior Federal Policy and Advocacy Analyst at the Center. “The previous administration launched a strategic, coordinated effort from day one to undermine sexual and reproductive rights as human rights, both domestically and globally. It is imperative that we act to prevent any future efforts to regress on these fundamental human rights.”
Center’s Research Included in Past Reports
Prior to the Trump administration, the Center provided feedback to the State Department and worked to ensure that the Human Rights Reports documented reproductive rights violations, consistent with international human rights standards. In addition, the Center’s regional offices provided research on the impact of laws restricting access to reproductive health care in regions around the world.
The Center’s research about countries’ reproductive rights were named in several past Human Rights Reports, including:
- El Salvador— Women charged with murder following obstetric emergencies. Reporting about these women–clients of the Center (known as “Las 17”), each sentenced to more than 30 years in prison—contributed to international pressure on courts in El Salvador. Several of the women were freed, and the Center continues to work with regional partners to free the remaining women. Details: El Salvador (2015) Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and El Salvador (2016) Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
- Philippines—Lack of access to contraceptives and limited availability to sex education. Details: Philippines (2015) Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
- Poland—Difficulty obtaining affordable contraceptives, prohibition of voluntary sterilization, and the unavailability of sexuality counseling services for young people. Details: Poland (2015) Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
- Tanzania—The practice of expelling pregnant girls from school. Details: Tanzania (2013) – Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
- Chile—Pressured and forced sterilization by health care workers. Details: Chile (2010) Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
“The reporting in the State Department’s Human Rights Reports helps guide policy and provides accountability. It has real impact on real lives,” said Kaufman “We need the Reproductive Rights are Human Rights Act enacted to guarantee this reporting will continue each and every year, under each and every administration.”
The Reproductive Rights are Human Rights Act of 2021 is cosponsored by 144 members of Congress and endorsed by the Center and 44 organizations, including: Advocates for Youth, American Jewish World Service, Amnesty International USA, Catholics for Choice, Center for Biological Diversity, CHANGE (Center for Health and Gender Equity), Council for Global Equality, Global Health Council, Global Justice Center, Guttmacher Institute, Heartland Alliance International, Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, Ibis Reproductive Health, If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice, interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), International Service for Human Rights , International Women’s Health Coalition, Ipas, Jewish Women International, John Snow, Inc. (JSI), Management Sciences for Health, MPact: Global Action for Gay Health & Rights, MSI Reproductive Choices, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), National Birth Equity Collaborative, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Organization for Women, National Women’s Health Network, Oxfam America, PAI, Pathfinder International, People For the American Way, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Population Connection Action Fund, Population Institute, Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, University of Miami School of Law, Human Rights Clinic, Women Deliver, Women’s Refugee Commission, and Woodhull Freedom Foundation.