We, the undersigned organizations, welcome your administration’s reengagement of the United States (US) with the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and recommitment to promoting human rights. We also applaud you for revoking the Global Gag Rule (also known as the Mexico City Policy) within your first ten days in office, and now we ask you to go further to implement “the policy of the US to support women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights in the US, as well as globally.” Therefore, in light of your administration’s response to the recommendations made to the US during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the HRC in Geneva last November, we are writing to urge you to take further steps to implement the UPR recommendations made with regard to sexual and reproductive health and rights, including by taking executive and administrative action to ameliorate the harmful impact of US abortion restrictions on foreign aid, particularly the Helms Amendment, a nearly 50-year-old policy that must be congressionally repealed in its entirety. Recognizing the racist and neo-colonial roots of the Helms Amendment, we also urge the implementation of the recommendations made regarding racism and discrimination. These recommendations were made by 23 countries spanning across Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East and, if implemented, would positively impact access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as the livelihood and wellbeing of persons experiencing discrimination.
During the UPR, the US was called on to strengthen its support for sexual and reproductive health and rights at home and abroad. A number of countries made formal recommendations for the US to take action on its restrictions on foreign assistance, and we commend your support of these recommendations. The Netherlands called on the US to “repeal the Helms Amendment…and, in the interim, allow United States foreign assistance to be used, at a minimum, for safe abortion in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment.” During the UPR adoption, the United Kingdom specifically addressed its “hope that the US can go further and clarify its interpretation of the Helms Amendment, and ensure universal access to safe abortion care.” Congress must repeal the Helms Amendment entirely and the Administration must do all that it can to mitigate the harms of this egregious policy in the interim. In order to implement these recommendations, we encourage you to take steps to:
Take executive action and issue guidance from relevant agencies and departments to clarify and implement US foreign assistance support for abortion care to the maximum extent allowed under the Helms Amendment, namely by immediately clarifying that funds can be used to support abortion care provided in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment of the pregnant person.
Issue guidance from relevant agencies and departments to proactively clarify that US foreign assistance may be used for abortion information and counseling under the Leahy Amendment.
Prioritize the removal of abortion funding restrictions like the Helms Amendment, in addition to addressing many other important sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) priorities, through the White House Gender Policy Council, with its focus on promoting SRHR domestically and globally, in order to bring US policy in line with its human rights obligations and the administration’s stated commitment to advancing global health and equity. All actions by the Gender Policy Council must also consider the role of racial and other forms of discrimination on recipients of sexual and reproductive healthcare in the US and elsewhere across the globe.
Consult with relevant stakeholders and agencies to issue policies to combat systemic racism and discrimination against marginalized and minoritized populations and ensure implementation of these policies at the state, federal and local levels, recognizing that domestic US policy and practice influence the values exported through US foreign assistance and foreign policy.
Ensure robust support for sexual and reproductive health and rights, including eliminating Helms and similar abortion coverage restrictions from the Fiscal Year 2022 budget.
On October 17-18 in Geneva, the United States government faced questions from civil society and the Human Rights Committee on the country’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In addition to questions on immigrants’ rights, racial discrimination, and more, US officials were pressed repeatedly on the state of abortion access in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.
The June 2022 Supreme Court decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization eliminated federal constitutional protection for access to abortion in the United States. Following Dobbs, more than a dozen states fully banned abortion, and many others passed or proposed increased restrictions. On October 17-18, 2023, the Human Rights Committee will review US compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), including the impact of Dobbs on its human rights obligations.
The undersigned organizations call on the Biden administration to update the United States’ fifth periodic report to the UN Human Rights Committee under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Committee will be basing its review on this report, which was submitted by the Trump administration on January 15, 2021. This report version lacks updates on existing U.S. policies, as well as a commitment to expand protections for marginalized communities, especially non-citizens, in the context of reproductive health and access to medical care. It is critical — and consistent with the Biden administration’s policy commitments — to address the gaps between current U.S. policies and the ICCPR.