The U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report this year omitted reproductive rights, sparking outcry from advocates.
The report, titled “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017,” is meant to “document the status of human rights and worker rights in nearly 200 countries and territories” and is “used by a variety of actors, including the U.S. Congress, the executive branch, and the judicial branch as a factual resource for decision making in matters ranging from assistance to asylum.”
This year’s iteration of the human rights report eliminated sections on “reproductive rights,” which, according to the Washington Post, had been introduced during the Obama administration in the 2011 report that was released the following year.
Those sections examined “the ability of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children.”
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The report’s appendix notes the sections on reproductive rights were replaced with sections titled “coercion in population control.”
“A revised subsection changes the focus from ‘reproductive rights,’ which sought to cover the availability of contraceptives and maternal health issues, to cover more directly the requirement of U.S. law that we report on coercive family planning practices, such as coerced abortion and involuntary sterilization,” the report said.
This is the Trump administration’s latest de-emphasizing of reproductive rights. The president in 2017 reinstated the global gag rule, or Mexico City policy, which prohibits foreign nongovernmental organizations that get U.S. government family planning aid from providing abortion care or information about the procedure.
State Department officials dismissed the omission when asked during Friday’s briefing on the report why reproductive rights sections were removed. “There’s still a long section on women. And by the way, if you look elsewhere in the report, I mean, women are also activists, are also journalists,” said Michael G. Kozak, ambassador at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
Kozak said the sections had only been included in recent years and that removing them was “not a diminishment of women’s rights or a desire to get away from it; it was to stop using a term that has several different meanings that are not all the ones we intend.”
State Department officials had reportedly been instructed to scale back mentions of reproductive rights and discrimination, sources told Politico in February. Their directive had called “for stripping passages that describe societal views on family planning, including how much access women have to contraceptives and abortion,” the outlet reported.
One unnamed official at the State Department told Politico that the directive “sends a clear signal that women’s reproductive rights are not a priority for this administration, and that it’s not even a rights violation we must or should report on.”
Human and reproductive rights advocates called out the Trump administration’s omission and noted the administration’s undermining of access to reproductive health care.
“Why should we expect anything less?” said Brian Dixon, senior vice president for media and government relations at Population Connection Action Fund, in a statement. “One of Trump’s first moves as president was to impose the deadly global gag rule on abortion, which hamstrings efforts to seriously address the crisis of unsafe abortion throughout the developing world, puts ideology ahead of evidence, and undermines global health programs and outcomes.”
Joanne Lin, national director of advocacy and governmental relations at Amnesty International USA, reiterated that reproductive rights should be included in analysis of human rights issues.
“Reports of the omission of key passages pertaining to sexual and reproductive rights, women’s rights and the rights of marginalized populations, combined with the Administration’s deference to known human rights violators like the governments of Saudi Arabia and Turkey, make us skeptical that these reports present a full picture of human rights around the world,” Lin said in a statement.
“Reproductive rights are human rights, and omitting the issue signals the Trump Administration’s latest retreat from global leadership on human rights,” Lin continued.
“Human rights defenders should view the reports with a critical eye, and fight against any effort to obscure or diminish violations of human rights wherever they may occur.”