U.N. Human Rights Council Grills U.S. on Reproductive Rights

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Governments question U.S. for denying foreign assistance to women in need of safe abortion services
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(PRESS RELEASE) Governments this week asked the United States to explain its failure to address the misapplication of the Helms Amendment, a 40-year-old policy that — on paper – permits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds for safe abortion services in cases of rape, incest and life-endangerment.

The United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Belgium questioned the U.S. delegation about the Obama administration’s refusal to implement the Helms Amendment correctly, treating the policy as though it were a complete ban, preventing millions of women and girls overseas from accessing essential medical care—even in countries where abortion is legal.   

The questioning by governments is part of a review at the Human Rights Council—the U.N.’s main human rights body—where the United States responded to inquiries regarding a wide range of human rights violations. In addition to raising the global impact of the Helms Amendment, the Center for Reproductive Rights drew attention to policies that discriminate against immigrants in access to public health insurance and women with disabilities, including violence and lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“While the United States views itself as a model of human rights and gender equality, the truth is that U.S. policies and practices are failing women at home and abroad. 

“The U.S. has broken its promises to ensure the human rights of all women—especially those most at risk of discrimination—to safe, legal, high quality reproductive health care.

“It’s time for the U.S. to honor its human rights obligations and for the Obama Administration to ensure all women have access to safe abortion services and comprehensive reproductive health care.” 

The Human Rights Council examines each country’s human rights record every four years in a process known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

During today’s UPR review of the United States, the governments of Portugal, Peru, Spain, and Honduras recommended that the U.S. improve access to affordable health care for undocumented immigrants.  

In the past year, two UN human rights bodies have been critical of the United States for the discriminatory policies against immigrants in access to affordable health care. In August 2014, the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern about policies barring immigrants from public health insurance and urged the U.S. to improve access to affordable coverage for all immigrants, especially women in need of reproductive health care.

These recommendations echo ones made by the United Nations Human Rights Committee this past March urging the U.S. to amend laws that exclude many groups of immigrants—even those lawfully present in the U.S.—from eligibility for health coverage and access to reproductive health care.