The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

State Department removes reproductive rights indicators from annual country reporting

Getty Images

Last Friday’s release of the U.S. Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices has a gaping hole: the “Reproductive Rights” section has disappeared. This section was previously included for each one of the 195 countries covered by this comprehensive assessment of the state of human rights around the world With his confirmation now settled, Secretary of State Pompeo should understand — and reverse — his predecessor’s dramatic about-face in U.S. efforts to protect the rights of women.

The country reports form a critical body of evidence for capturing human rights conditions. They provide narrative evidence of compliance with human rights norms — an established part of international law — incorporating rights to free press, association, religion, fair trials and conditions of confinement, as well freedom from racial, ethnic and gender-based discrimination.

{mosads}The reports shed light on abuses and help human rights bodies, lawmakers and civil society address violations with direct intervention, sanctions, or other corrective means. For example, their documentation of forced military conscription of children as young as eight years old contributed to the 2007 passage of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which denies U.S. support to countries who continue this brutal practice. 


Included in past reports was documentation of violations of women’s reproductive rights such as high rates of maternal mortality and limited availability of contraception. Moreover, last year’s country reports covered the harsh penal consequences of criminal abortion laws for women in El Salvador and Uganda and the denial of medical care to Filipino women suffering complications from unsafe abortion. In the just-released reports, the “Reproductive Rights” section has been eliminated altogether. Instead, the only reporting on women’s human rights with respect to reproduction is a section labelled “Coercion in Population Control.”

Without question, coerced abortion and sterilization are human rights abuses that must be denounced. So too should other affronts to women’s human dignity and ability to control their bodies and their lives. Gone from this year’s reports are government restrictions on contraceptive methods and instances of women criminalized for ending a pregnancy. Rates of largely preventable maternal mortality are absent as well, though the reports do link to an outdated World Health Organization white paper. Taken in total, these changes materially overhaul what the United States monitors on women’s rights and sends an unmistakable signal that some lives are not entitled to equal treatment and respect.

These much-diminished reports will undermine efforts by international actors to hold nations accountable and intervene on behalf of vulnerable populations. They reveal that the U.S. no longer stands among the nations of the world which recognize women’s rights as human rights, giving tacit support to countries with deplorable human rights records. 

Under this administration, the U.S. record of protecting women’s human rights within its borders merits little more than a C-minus. Now, the failure to monitor these violations overseas erases the realities of women’s lives and marks the next step in a systematic retreat by the U.S. on gender equality at home and abroad.   

Reproductive rights are internationally recognized human rights. It is imperative that the State Department monitors all human rights, including those most deeply affecting women. Human rights in general — and reproductive rights in particular — are not spoils in a political contest. They are established legal obligations under international law which protect individuals all over the world from discrimination, violence, injury and death.

Failure to collect evidence of violations to reproductive rights aligns with the administration’s scornful treatment of women, survivors of sexual violence and abuse and, increasingly, the very large world beyond U.S. borders.

Nancy Northup is the president and chief executive officer of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Tags Center for Reproductive Rights Feminism Feminist theory Gender Gender studies Health care Human behavior Human rights Midwifery Reproductive health Reproductive rights Sexual health Women's rights

More Healthcare News

See All

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video