SEATTLE — The United States House of Representatives’ Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Rep. Katherine Clark, Ranking Members Nita Lowey and Eliot Engel, Rep. Barbara Lee and Rep. Lois Frankel introduced bill H.R.7228 on December 10, 2018, the day of International Human Rights and the 70th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As is stated in the bill, it is officially named the Reproductive Rights Are Human Rights Act of 2018 and it aims to amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to include in the Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices a section on reproductive rights and for other purposes.
Foreign Assistance Act
Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 is an act promoting U.S. foreign policy and security and the general welfare of the U.S. through assisting the people of the international community in their pursuit of economic development and national security. It declares that nations that respect an individual’s civil and economic rights and freedoms, in turn, sustains and enhances U.S. civil liberties, economic prosperity and security. The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 also reaffirms and renews the United States’ commitment to helping eliminate hunger, poverty, illness and ignorance in developing countries worldwide. This act, along with the Trade Act of 1974, requires the U.S. Secretary of State to report to Congress on a yearly basis about the state of human rights in each U.S. foreign aid recipient country and United Nations’ member state.
Historically, the Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices or Human Rights Reports, have helped foster dialogue and encourage accountability among advocates and diplomats. Reproductive rights’ inaugural recognition in the Human Rights Reports was in 2011 and has reported annually detailed information about the lack of women’s access to reproductive rights. These reports served as guidelines to Congress and the private sector to make appropriations’ requests and decisions about advocacy, planning and policy. However, in 2017, the Trump administration’s State Department deleted all subsections pertaining to reproductive rights without any warning or justification. The Reproductive Rights Are Human Rights Act would potentially restore this inclusion.
Rating of the US Government
According to a Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Index published by the Center for Health and Gender Equity and the George Washington University Global Women’s Institute, the U.S. government under the Trump-Pence administration received poor scoring for their work on sexual and reproductive health and rights. The index showed the White House had seen the greatest decline in scoring from 2016 to 2017, with a drop from A- grade to C-. The administration’s harmful policies and budget cuts were to blame for this decline (e.g. its expanded Global Gag Rule that eliminates the international family planning budget and its withholding of funding from the United Nations Population Fund).
Other government agencies also received poor grading because of policies and budgets that do not fully support U.S. global health assistance funding and transparency in areas such as family planning, maternal and child health and HIV/AIDS. These agencies are the State Department, Department of Health and Human Resources, Department of Defense, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Congress. These scores reflect the gender inequality that is present in the Trump-Pence administration and reinforces the need for the Reproductive Rights Are Human Rights Act.
As Ranking Member and co-sponsor of the bill, Eliot L. Engel, said: “The deletion of reproductive rights was a clear step back from the United States’ obligation to address the full range of human rights violations around the globe. This bill will ensure Congress has a clear and complete picture of the challenges women and girls face. Without this information, we cannot hope to overcome those challenges.”
The Reproductive Rights Are Human Rights Act
Amnesty International reported, in its review on the state of human rights in 2018, that there was a distinct global trend of international leaders adopting biased governing that included misogynistic, xenophobic and homophobic policies that have demonstrated a reversal of women’s rights. With the Trump administration’s censorship of the State Department’s Human Rights Reports, Clark warns that the State Department is no longer the “international watchdog.” The removal of reproductive rights from the Human Rights Reports sends clear messages to abusive governments that the U.S. will no longer hold them accountable for human rights violations and international women’s rights are no longer a priority.
The Reproductive Rights Are Human Rights Act of 2018 would brand the State Department as the guardian of international women’s rights. It would signal that violations of their rights would not be tolerated and that reproductive health care is necessary to the survival of women and the human race.
Heather Nauert, the new U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, defends the White House’s regressive policies, scaled back reporting on women and removal of reproductive rights from the Human Rights Reports. With no signs of Nauert restraining the administration’s biased efforts and without Congressional approval of the House Democrats’ bill, the human rights’ forecast for women by the international community is bleak. The status of the Reproductive Rights Are Human Rights Act is so far unchanged. It has been introduced into the House, but no further actions have been taken on its path to making it Congressional legislation.
– Julianne Russo