The State Department’s report on Human Rights and Practices for 2017 was released on Friday, April 20, 2018. Notably absent from the report was a section focusing on women’s “reproductive rights.” During a briefing on the report, Ambassador Michael G. Kozak from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor explained why the section was removed, stating that abortion is “not a human right.”
Michelle Kosinski from CNN noted that the removal of the section was “conspicuous” and questioned Kozak as to why the section would be removed from a list of what the State Department calls “our values as Americans.”
Kozak stated that the term “women’s reproductive rights” was added to the report under the Obama Administration and originally referred to access to contraception. However, since that time, both pro-life and pro-choice groups “both seem to think it does include abortion.” Therefore, the State Department chose instead to use “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.”
Access to contraception is no longer a concern according to Kozak, because in “virtually every country” there are no obstacles other than lower availability in rural areas compared to urban areas. The real issue, he states, is with coerced family planning, including forced abortion in countries such as China and North Korea.
Kylie Atwood from CBS News asked Kozak if the change in language 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.”
“We have never taken the position that abortion was a right under – a human right under international law,” said Kozak. “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. […] it is internationally recognized that somebody shouldn’t coerce you to have an abortion or force you to be sterilized.”
Unsurprisingly, Planned Parenthood Global took to Twitter Friday to claim that the deletion of “women’s reproductive rights” shows the world “that the U.S. does not value women, girls, LGBTQ and other vulnerable communities.” But for an organization which supports China’s oppressive policies and has even supported sex-selective abortions — which typically favors boys over girls, even in the United States — these comments seem hypocritical at best.
Kozak addressed this by stating that there is “still a long section on women” in the report, which covers violence against women in countries such as Russia and Saudi Arabia.