Planned Exclusion of Abortion in State Dept.’s ‘Human-Rights Report’ Earns Praise

Pro-life groups and Catholic and other Christian nonprofits have sent a letter of support to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but progressive politicians and organizations aren’t happy with the shift in direction.

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gives a speech March 6.
Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gives a speech March 6. (photo: State Dept. Twitter)

WASHINGTON — A coalition of pro-life and family groups is urging the U.S. State Department to stick to its plan to not include abortion and other contentious issues as human rights in the department’s annual “Human-Rights Report.”

Almost 200 groups that include the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM), Priests for Life, Human Life International and scores of Catholic and Christian nonprofits signed a March 5 letter to former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, congratulating him for “supporting a proper understanding of international human rights” in the department’s upcoming report.

As first reported by Politico, the State Department intends to remove passages that discuss family-planning issues in foreign countries, including how much access women in those countries have to contraception and abortion. The annual report is expected to be released imminently.

The move, reportedly ordered by a top aide to Tillerson, who was fired from his post by President Donald Trump Tuesday, marks a reversal from former President Barack Obama’s State Department, which promoted the idea that abortion is a human right, said Austin Ruse, president of C-FAM.

“The notion of human rights has been expanded beyond all recognition,” Ruse told the Register, adding that the international community has repeatedly rejected attempts to define abortion in those terms.

In previous human-rights reports, Ruse said, the State Department also framed homosexual issues as human rights and criticized the Catholic Church for voicing its teachings against same-sex “marriage.” The State Department’s 2016 report notes that homosexual-rights activists in South America and the Middle East were killed and that discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity were common in some parts of the world.

Ruse said that people with same-sex attraction are already covered by every other United Nations human-rights treaty.

“All human-rights treaties cover all human beings. Human rights are indivisible,” Ruse said. “Those with same-sex attraction already have the right to vote, the right to freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial, the right to political self-determination. ... They have all the human rights that you and I have.” 

Ruse added, “Besides promoting issues that are not agreed-upon human rights, promoting them has the effect of diluting important and agreed-upon rights.”

Politico reported that the State Department was considering trimming language detailing racial, ethnic and sexual discrimination from the upcoming report, but a department spokesperson later told reporters that discrimination pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity will remain in the report.


Shift in Priorities

The expected changes in the State Department report reflects the shift in foreign-policy priorities and focus from President Trump’s administration, which has blocked U.S. tax dollars from funding organizations that perform or promote abortion in foreign nations.

In May 2017, the Trump administration announced that it was expanding the scope of the Mexico City Policy to restrict federal funding for all international health programs — not just those that receive money for family planning — that provide or refer women to abortion services.

As Politico noted, the State Department’s previous human-rights reports have covered women’s reproductive issues in great detail. For example, last year’s report said India has “unmet needs for contraception, deaths related to unsafe abortion, maternal mortality and coercive family-planning practices, including coerced or unethical sterilization and policies restricting access to entitlements for women with more than two children.”

Pro-abortion and pro-gender ideology-rights politicians and non-governmental organizations have attacked the Trump administration for the planned changes. The Human Rights Campaign, which lobbies for gender ideology’s causes, called the administration’s plan “a shameful move” that was indicative of Tillerson’s “dangerously negligent indifference toward LGBTQ people around the globe.”

Responding to the State Department report’s changes, former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted, “Women’s rights are human rights. That was a radical idea back in 1995. It shouldn’t still be two decades later.”

Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, a Virginia-based nonprofit that challenges global overpopulation theories and spotlights human-rights abuses in population-control programs, told the Register that “rights don’t become rights simply because Hillary Clinton says so.”

“They have to be codified into international legally binding instruments,” Mosher said. “By that measure, ‘reproductive rights’ is an empty phrase.”

In 1968, the U.N. International Conference on Human Rights passed the non-binding “Proclamation of Tehran” that declared, “Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children.” But even that declaration was not part of a legally binding document.

Said Mosher, “Rights to abortion, sterilization and artificial contraception are mentioned only in non-binding recommendations and are nothing more than pro-abortion advocacy masquerading as international law.”


‘Strong Signal’

Organizations, such as C-FAM, which monitor the United Nations and its agencies, have for years documented attempts to reinterpret internationally agreed-upon documents as including a right to abortion. The letter sent to Tillerson noted that the U.N.’s human-rights treaty’s monitoring bodies have pressured 154 countries on 479 occasions to liberalize their abortion laws based on their personal readings of the treaties.

That is a dangerous trend, the letter said, adding that the State Department’s upcoming report will send a “strong signal” to human-rights analysts that the United States will adhere to “a proper understanding of international law going forward.”

The letter notes that member U.N. nations have “repeatedly rejected” any right to abortion in open debate at the United Nations.

Abortion, Ruse added, “is not pro-woman.”

Said Ruse, “In fact, it is decidedly anti-woman, since abortion is proof that we have not met the needs of women who need our help. Moreover, it is a fact that more unborn females are aborted than unborn males.”

Several women-rights organizations signed the March 5 letter, including Real Women of Canada, the Catholic Women’s League of Australia, and the Dhaka Single Women Association, among others.

Those and the scores of other human rights, health and development organizations commended Tillerson for planning to publish the report without “politically motivated and contentious social issues.”

Said Ruse, “We put together a coalition of 197 groups who are speaking with one voice to the State Department and saying, ‘Yes, this is the right thing to stand up for authentic human rights.”

Register correspondent Brian Fraga writes from Fall River, Massachusetts.