Center Responds to Report from U.S. State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights

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07.30.20

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The Center for Reproductive Rights has issued its official response to the Trump administration’s latest attempt to remove reproductive rights from the global human rights framework.

A draft report released July 16 from the State Department’s controversial Commission on Unalienable Rights rejects the consensus of international human rights experts that reproductive rights are human rights and elevates certain human rights over others—despite the fact that a core tenet of the human rights framework rejects any such hierarchy of rights.

Crucially, the Commission asserts: “Foremost among the unalienable rights that government is established to secure, from the founders’ point of view, are property rights and religious liberty.”

The report deceptively calls abortion a “contestable political preference” and speaks of “conflicting interpretations of human rights claims.” It puts abortion and same-sex marriage in the category of “divisive social and political controversies” rather than rights that have been well-established internationally and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. And it ominously warns against any so-called “prodigious expansion” of human rights.

Such a pick-and-choose approach to human rights flies in the face of decades of progress in the codification of human rights throughout the world. Nonetheless, the administration has made it clear that it intends for this document to guide U.S. foreign policy for the foreseeable future.

The response from the Center for Reproductive Rights expresses “deep concern that the Commission is being used by the administration as subterfuge for rolling back rights protections in the U.S. and globally for women, LGBTQI people, and other marginalized and vulnerable communities, and to further the administration’s ongoing effort to erase sexual and reproductive health and rights from the global human rights discourse.”

As Risa Kaufman, Director, U.S. Human Rights at the Center, points out, “The report ignores international consensus that reproductive rights are human rights through a brazen and dangerous discrediting of binding human rights treaties and their mandate to codify human rights under widely recognized rules of international law.”

For example, the protections enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—a treaty ratified by the U.S.—are understood to include, as part of the “right to life,” the right to survive pregnancy and access comprehensive reproductive health care.

Kaufman explains the real purpose of the Commission: “From its inception, advocates have been deeply concerned that the Commission, whose chair and members have well-known and extreme positions opposing reproductive rights and LGBTQI rights, is subterfuge for rolling back rights protections in the U.S. and globally for women, LGBTQI people, and other marginalized and vulnerable communities. A federal lawsuit challenges the legitimacy of the Commission itself as being established and operated in violation of federal law.”

The lawsuit filed by a coalition of rights groups asserts that the Commission violates the law because its membership is not “fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented,” unnecessarily duplicates an existing government bureau, and lacks required transparency. The Center has filed an amicus brief supporting the lawsuit.

The Commission’s report furthers the Trump administration’s ongoing campaign of retrogression in human rights. The administration has adopted a significantly expanded Global Gag Rule, which prohibits foreign NGOs that receive any U.S. funding from providing information, referrals, or services for legal abortion or to advocate for access to abortion care. It withdrew from the World Health Organization and cut funding to the U.N. agency that works to advance family planning. It led a joint U.N. statement opposing U.N. policies promoting reproductive health and rights. And it has gutted reporting on reproductive rights from the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

At home, the administration has repeatedly undermined affordable access to the full range of reproductive health care—from quality prenatal and pregnancy care to abortion care—disregarding extraordinary harm to people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQI people, immigrants, and people who are low-income or living in poverty. It has implemented new Title X regulations prohibiting federal funds for health care providers offering information about abortion; expanded provisions for employers to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate; implemented cruel immigrant detention policies that pose acute dangers, including for pregnant people; and rolled backed critical nondiscrimination protections in the Affordable Care Act, to name just a few of its assaults on human rights.

As the Center’s response states: “Reproductive freedom lies at the heart of the promise of human dignity, self-determination, and equality embodied in both the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Public comments on the Commission’s draft report are being accepted until July 30.