State Department Erases Reproductive Rights Section From Annual Report

State Department Erases Reproductive Rights Section From Annual Report

The section on racial and sexual discrimination will also be trimmed.



By Laura Bassett, Huffington Post, 02/22/2018 12:45 pm ET


NEW YORK― President Donald Trump’s State Department has been ordered to strip language about women’s reproductive rights from its annual global human rights report, Politico reported on Thursday

The report, compiled each year with information from U.S. embassies around the world, typically details the lack of contraception and abortion access in various countries and sheds light on racial and sexual discrimination.

This year, a senior aide to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has reportedly directed the department to remove much of that information from the document. The new report will focus instead on forced sterilization and abortions, and the “Reproductive Rights” subsection in the report will be renamed “Coercion in Population Control.”

The section on racial and sexual discrimination will be pared down, according to the Politico story.

The move follows a string of attempts by the Trump administration to de-prioritize women’s rights and roll back women’s access to contraception and abortion around the world. 

“This development is a transparent attempt by the Trump administration to not only deprioritize reproductive rights, but effectively erase them from the broader conversation on human rights,” said Tarah Demant, director of gender, sexuality, and identity at Amnesty International USA.  

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the department is “better focusing some sections of the report for clarity,” and sharpening it to spotlight “the most egregious issues.”

The administration’s proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year, released earlier this month, would cut nearly $2.5 billion from the Global Health Programs Account, slashing global family planning funding by half.

Trump also reinstated and massively expanded the Global Gag Rule, restricting $8.8 billion in U.S. foreign aid funding for international health programs that provide or even mention abortion services. And he defunded the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a global maternal health organization that provides contraception and pregnancy care to low-income women in 150 countries. 

Women’s health workers around the world are already seeing the effects of Trump’s policies on women and girls, who are seeking dangerous and sometimes deadly back-alley abortions as family planning clinics are forced to shut down. Unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal mortality globally. 

“Girls aren’t able to get contraception, and they’re starting to come back pregnant, suicidal, bereft,” said Lisa Shannon, a global women’s rights advocate who works with reproductive health clinics in East Africa. “They’re desperate, and they’ll do whatever it takes.” 

Stripping language about reproductive rights from the U.S. government’s annual report is more than symbolic. Because the U.S. is the largest donor to women’s health groups in the world, effectively holding the purse strings for many non-profits and international organizations, any move the administration makes on the issue can have a chilling effect on contraception and abortion access in developing countries.

Brian Dixon, a spokesman for Population Connection, said the State Department is using the report “to provide cover to violations of women’s fundamental human rights rather than to provide a tool for accountability.” 

“Denial of care isn’t ― as Trump and [Vice President Mike] Pence would have it ― an act of faith; it’s an act of violence,” he told HuffPost. “And the refusal to acknowledge that in a report created to hold autocrats and oppressors accountable is just disgraceful.”