Do the US Midterms Signal Change for Women’s Health?

Trumping Women’s Rights Digest: Delivering a Global Lens on the Administration’s Fight Against Women’s Health

Eroding Women’s Rights at the United Nations

A series of October reports in Foreign Policy show that the White House—guided by a conservative, religious agenda—is quietly unleashing attacks on sexual and reproductive health and rights at the United Nations, and with its diplomats abroad. Though Congress rebuffed the administration’s attempts to cut funding for UN agencies, the Trump-Pence administration is not only continuing its efforts to withhold and restrict funding, but specifically targeting those that advance women’s rights. It is also attempting to strike language such as “gender” and “sexual and reproductive health” from UN documents that guide national and international policies. As a new Congress and the White House fight for power of the purse—with UN funding a key sticking point—2019 budget negotiations in the US will no doubt be tense.

The US’ defunding and whitewashing strategy is currently playing out in the UN Third Committee—the General Assembly group responsible for social, humanitarian affairs, and human rights issues. Just last week, the US attempted to water down UN commitments to child marriage by proposing amendments that place national conditions on sexual and reproductive health and rights, seeking to reduce government accountability and weaken UN commitments to women’s health and global autonomy—not to mention undermine 25 years of UN consensus. So far these attempts have failed, but as the Third Committee continues to deliberate on crucial issues such as violence against women, female genital mutilation, and obstetric fistula, it is anticipated that the US will continue to throw up roadblocks. It remains to be seen what impact, if any, the next US Ambassador to the UN will have on US strategy—stay tuned as this story continues to unfold.

Using Religion to Restrict Health Care

How does a government use one guaranteed freedom to subvert another? Look no further than the Trump-Pence administration’s use of “religious liberty” as a tool to restrict women’s access to reproductive health care. On the heels of the midterm elections, the administration finalized a policy that expands the grounds for denying birth control coverage due to religious beliefs.

This tactic is not unique and mirrors that of governments around the world: globally, 70 jurisdictions—and 45 of 50 US states—allow for refusals of care based on so-called “conscience claims.” IWHC has extensively researched and written about how these policies are unethical and a violation of patient’s human rights. This dangerous US policy also has global implications: Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, a known champion of religious exemptions in health care, serves as the head of the US delegation to the World Health Organization, which is the UN’s primary body dedicated to global health.

To learn more about refusals to care, read IWHC report Unconscionable.

Post-Midterms, What About Sexual and Reproductive Health?

Excitingly, when the newly configured US House of Representatives starts its term on January 3, there will be opportunities to stop some of the Trump administration’s most egregious policies related to women’s health.

With a pro-choice majority and Democratic control of key committees, such as appropriations and foreign affairs, IWHC will be working to press the US Congress to act on a policy vision that advances sexual and reproductive rights in domestic and foreign policy. This includes calls to reinstate reporting on reproductive rights at the State Department; resume funding to the UN Population Fund—the largest international provider of contraception, family planning, and other reproductive health services; and introduce legislation to repeal the Global Gag Rule, despite its inability to pass in the Republican controlled Senate.

 

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Photo: White House

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