The State Department released its Human Rights Report for 2017 on Friday, and State Department officials acknowledged it purposely left out a section on “women’s reproductive rights,” which had been included in previous reports during the Obama administration, noting that the administration does not consider abortion a human right under international law.
“When the State Department is talking about this represents our values as Americans, the removal of sections on women’s reproductive rights – why is that not included in values as Americans?” a reporter asked State Department officials.
“I’m going to explain why it was removed. It was introduced six years ago into the report. It hadn’t been there before,” Michael Kozak, ambassador for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, said.
“It’s one of the few terms that are used in the report that isn’t derived from an international treaty that has a definition or derived from U.S. law, where there’s a clear definition to the term, and in this case, the previous administration intended it to mean look at the availability of contraception, at the – whether the government tried to impose or coerce people in making decisions about reproduction,” Kozak said.
“In the statements that were made – this was derived from the Beijing Declaration that was done in the ‘90s. At that time, it was very clear and our delegation made a very clear statement that this has nothing to do with abortion. It doesn’t mean abortion,” he said.
Kozak said the use of the term “reproductive rights” means different things to people on both sides of the issue.
“Unfortunately, over the last few years, groups on both sides of that issue domestically have started to use the term, and both seem to think it does include abortion and then argue about it,” he said. “So our thought was let’s just not use a term that has the opposite meaning from the one we intend.
“We went back to the term that’s used in the U.S. statute that requires the Human Rights Report, which is coerced family planning, namely coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization,” Kozak said. “I might mention too, because I went back and looked at last year’s report, the question being asked was, ‘Were there obstacles opposed to getting contraception information and means?’
“The answer in virtually every country was no, there were no obstacles other than, in almost every country, including our own, the availability in rural areas is less than it is in urban areas. But we were taking a lot of space to explain that,” he said.
“So what we’ve done, we’ve kept that information in there. We’ve done it now by a hyperlink. We used to take that information from the WHO report and put it in. We said let’s just use a hyperlink, and then there’s actually more information available that way. So that’s the rationale behind that,” Kozak said.
“It’s not a diminishment of women’s rights or a desire to get away from it; it was to stop using a term that has several different meanings that are not all the ones we intend,” he added.
A reporter later questioned whether Kozak was saying “there are no obstacles for women to get contraception in any country except for if there’s a remote issue.”
“I said with some exceptions, and the exceptions were and still are – and we’ve really gotten at it by flipping back to the original U.S. statutory language. It’s in places like China, where in order to enforce their two – now two-child policy, that there are reports of coerced abortion and involuntary sterilization,” Kozak said.
The ambassador said North Korea also engages in forced abortion, although it’s usually used for political punishment. Also in the country of Belarus, women in state hospitals or who are institutionalized are forced to have abortions or if the woman or baby has disabilities.
“In North Korea, where the government also coerces or forces abortion – although sometimes that’s for political punishment rather than family planning, and we uncovered it,” Kozak said.
“So as we were digging through trying to reduce the bulk of some of this report, I found in the old country I served in, in Belarus, that it turns out that the doctors in the state hospitals, and particularly in the institutions there, if they have a woman who is pregnant and who is a woman with disabilities, the doctors insist on an abortion. Or if they believe the fetus has a disability, they’ll insist on an abortion. So we’ve called that out too,” he said.
“So it’s not – those were the cases, though, in the – under the previous formula where you would say there was a restriction on family planning, freedom of family planning. For most countries, it said, there isn’t any restriction except for the ones imposed by economics and rural-urban type thing,” Kozak said.
“So just to be clear just on that, so taking out the language about those cases therefore means that the U.S. doesn’t believe that the inability for women to get an abortion physically or by law is an abuse of human rights?” a reporter asked.
“Correct, under the previous administration and this one and the one before that. We have never taken the position that abortion was a right under – a human right under international law,” Kozak said.
“This is supposed to be internationally recognized human rights, and it’s an issue on which – some countries prohibit abortion. Some countries, like our own, pretty much no restriction on it, and we don’t say one of those is right and one of those is wrong. We don’t report on it because it’s not a human right,” he said.
“It’s an issue of great policy debate. You can have a good discussion, but there’s no internationally recognized standard as to what’s the right treatment, but the other, yes. The – it is internationally recognized that somebody shouldn’t coerce you to have an abortion or force you to be sterilized,” Kozak added.
(Courtesy of CNSNews.com)