Save Mifepristone: People’s Brief

On Friday, April 7, 2023, Texas-based U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk delivered his decision in Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine et al v. U.S. Food and Drug Administration et al, ruling that mifepristone should be pulled from the market.  

On Wednesday, April 12, 2023, a three-judge panel for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals partly overruled Kacsmaryk’s decision, stating that the FDA’s approval of mifepristone remains valid while also ruling to reinstate medically unnecessary restrictions to accessing the medication. 

This decision could result in a devastating, nationwide ban on mifepristone — even in states where abortion is legally protected — and compromise access to medication abortion across the country.

USOW and our partners across the country are mobilizing behind a united message to our judiciary: reverse this harmful decision, respect science, and uphold the law.

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Civil Society Organizations Urge UN Member States to Vote in Favor of Independent Institution on Missing Persons in Syria

At the end of June, the UN General Assembly will be called to vote on a resolution to establish an independent institution to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people in the Syrian Arab Republic, a milestone in the international community’s response to the Syrian conflict.

Since 2011, more than 100,000 individuals have gone missing or been forcibly disappeared by Syrian authorities and other parties to the conflict, including armed groups such as ISIL. In 2021, Syrian families and survivors called for the creation of a new independent, humanitarian institution that will focus on victims’ inalienable right to know the truth about their loved ones.

The call to establish such a new institution is supported by the UN Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The independent institution will be the first-ever response to the Syrian conflict to be entirely imagined and developed by Syrian victims and survivors of enforced disappearance and families of missing persons. The efforts made by Syrian families need the broadest and strongest support possible.

We, therefore, call on UN member states to support the families' right to truth by voting in favor of the resolution. Voting for the resolution will constitute a major step towards bringing long-awaited answers to thousands of families who have been suffering loss and uncertainty.

Progress on this issue is fundamental to families, communities and society as a whole. The international community must extend a hand of practical support and assistance to families and victims in need. The people of Syria deserve no less.

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Support for the UNFPA Funding Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last week, Representative Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) reintroduced her Support UNFPA Funding Act, which ensures the United States contributes to the United Nations (UN) Population Fund. This fund is an agency within the UN that promotes gender equality, empowers women and girls, and provides life-saving resources to women globally. By working with partners in over 150 countries, the UNFPA provides access to sexual and reproductive health services to women around the world. Houlahan has been a staunch advocate in supporting this fund since joining Congress in 2019. She introduced this bill in the 116th and 117th Congress as it not only supports women and girls globally, but also promotes international stability.

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Civil society participation: 40 organisations call on the UN to make hybrid participation permanent

On 7 June 2023, in a letter addressed to the UN Secretary-General, the President of the General Assembly, and the President of the Human Rights Council, HRCNet members, together with partner organisations, have requested that the hybrid modalities of participation at the Human Rights Council, Treaty Bodies and related mechanisms become a permanent tool for engagement of civil society organisations.

The undersigned organisations are writing to express their views on the issue of participation at the UN Human Rights Council, Treaty Bodies and related mechanisms in Geneva. They welcome the recent UN Secretary General’s agreement to maintain the current modalities for the 53rd session of the Human Rights Council as well as to maintain hybrid modalities for the 54th session, and stand ready to support the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in ensuring these modalities become permanent.

For the past three years, the business continuity scheme has provided an opportunity for the Human Rights Council, its mechanisms, and the UN Treaty Bodies to strengthen their efforts and ensure the possibility of participation via live online interventions and pre-recorded videos, coupled with in-person participation, throughout the sessions of Geneva-based human rights mechanisms, as well as formal and informal meetings and side events.

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There Is No Place for Anti-Trans Agendas in the UN

We express grave concerns over the series of harmful statements made and actionstaken by the current UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences, Reem Alsalem. To our dismay, the Special Rapporteur has persistently advocated for additional obstacles and conditions to legal gender recognition that undermine the rights protections of trans people, rather than calling for bodily autonomy for all. Instead of strengthening protections of marginalized groups and contributing to progressive legacies of previous Special Rapporteur and feminist movements that untiringly advocated for the creation of the office, we witness that the current Special Rapporteur is misusing her position and power to advocate for discriminatory policies against trans people and misapplying established human rights principles and frameworks. 

We are alarmed that the Special Rapporteur has weaponized “protection of women’s rights” to advocate for positions that misrepresent and regress from international norms and standards. In advocating for “single sex spaces” and increased barriers to legal gender recognition, the Special Rapporteur has also called for the “return” to an understanding of violence against women that is “based on their female sex” and upholds “sex-based rights.”Not only does this deviate from a feminist and scientific understanding of “sex” as being socially constructed, rather than fixed, essentialist, binary, biological and based on physiological characteristics. It is also contrary to international human rights standards that have evolved considerably to address discrimination based on gender which has been defined as a social construct “....that justifies inequality and provides a means to categorize, order and symbolize power relations.” In opposing the use of gender based discrimination to justify harmful policies against trans people and protect women’s “sex based rights,” the Special Rapporteur perpetuates and mirrors arguments and strategies used by states in the UN who increasingly oppose the use of “gender” in intergovernmental negotiations and other UN policy spaces.

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Organizational Letter Endorsing the Freedom to Learn Campaign

As organizations, groups and initiatives committed to the pursuit of human and civil rights, advocating for marginalized communities and defending racial and gender justice in the United States, we are proud to endorse the Freedom to Learn campaign and announce our participation in the Freedom To Learn National Day of Action on May 3, 2023. We join the growing, global network of more than 5,000 academics, authors and advocates who oppose the censoring of critical content in public and higher education.

The Freedom To Learn Movement has grown in response to the College Board’s February 2023 decision to water down its new Advanced Placement African American Studies course curriculum. We stand united in the call to restore the teaching of critical frameworks like intersectionality and contemporary movements for Black lives to the AP course. But more than that, we recognize that this one decision is not isolated. It is part of a long history of Black erasure and an alarming, current political moment in which right-wing politicians are seeking to undermine democracy by limiting public access to history and ideas.

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Coalition Letter to the White House and State Department on the US Periodic Report to the UN Human Rights Committee Under The ICCPR

Re: United States Periodic Report to the UN Human Rights Committee under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

Dear Ms. McDonald, Mr. Berschinski and Mr. Vail:

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

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NGO Letter - No Family Detention

Dear President Biden: The undersigned 383 organizations write to express our grave concern over reports that your administration is considering returning to the policy of family detention which has subjected hundreds of families to abusive, inhumane, and racially discriminatory practices. The long dark history of detaining families in Immigration and Custody Enforcement (ICE) facilities provides all the evidence necessary to show the U.S. government should never return to this inhumane practice. Directly impacted families, advocates, attorneys, whistleblowers, and medical and other experts have condemned this practice for years and fought to close down the facilities used to detain families. Your administration took the important and widely lauded step of ending the detention of families in ICE detention in late 2021. Reinstating a policy of detaining families in ICE or Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody, even for short periods of time, would be a horrifying reversal of your past policies and commitments.

No version of family detention, whether referred to as a detention facility, short-term processing center, emergency family staging center, or by any other name, is acceptable. We call on you to stand by your commitment as President, to turn the page from the horrors of prior administrations and pursue humane policies that do not involve incarcerating families. The well-documented inherent problems with family detention leave no room for doubt that re-starting this policy in any form will inflict suffering on children and their parents–and should never again be considered a viable government policy. In fact, the detention of immigrant children, whether accompanied or unaccompanied, is prohibited in international law as it is not in their best interests.

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Letter to UN Special Procedures on US Abortion Rights

Executive Summary

Following the United States (US) Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June 2022, people residing in the US who can become pregnant are facing a human rights crisis. This urgent appeal to United Nations (UN) mandate holders, supported by a coalition of 196 signatories, details these intensifying harms, discusses the ways in which Dobbs contravenes the US’ international obligations, and sets forth calls to action.

With the Dobbs decision, the US Supreme Court overturned the constitutionally protected right to access abortion, leaving the question of whether and how to regulate abortion to individual states. Approximately 22 million women and girls of reproductive age in the US now live in states where abortion access is heavily restricted, and often totally inaccessible.

The harms of the Dobbs decision detailed in this appeal include: the impact on women’s lives and health; the penalization of healthcare, including criminalization; threats to privacy from increased digital surveillance; infringement on freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief; and the disproportionate impact on marginalized populations. 

By overturning the established constitutional protection for access to abortion and through the passage of state laws, the US is in violation of its obligations under international human rights law, codified in a number of human rights treaties to which it is a party or a signatory. These human rights obligations include, but are not limited to, the rights to: life; health; privacy; liberty and security of person; to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief; equality and non-discrimination; and to seek, receive, and impart information.

The signatories call on the UN mandate holders to take up their calls to action, which include communicating with the US regarding the human rights violations, requesting a visit to the US, convening a virtual stakeholder meeting with US civil society, calls for the US to comply with its obligations under international law, and calls for private companies to take a number of actions to protect reproductive rights.

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Gender Equity Coalition - Priorities for the 118th Congress

Dear Colleagues:

As our country continues to grapple with and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic instability it caused, women, people of all marginalized genders, and their families continue to bear the burden of that recovery. Making matters worse, we continue to see historic attacks – physical and legislative – against women, the LGBTQIA+ community, immigrants, people with disabilities, and people of color. While one of the most egregious of these attacks was the stripping of the constitutional right to abortion – a Supreme Court decision that has already impacted millions and will continue to have far-reaching implications for our country – the attacks and risks we’re facing extend far beyond the Dobbs decision.

The outcome of the 2022 midterms was history-defying for a reason: It was driven by a broad demand to protect the rights of women and childbearing people. Given the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that women and all people of marginalized genders face, in particular Black women and other women and gender-expansive people of color, the 118th Congress has a responsibility and a duty to make gender equity and justice a top priority in its upcoming session.

The undersigned gender equity organizations urge Members of Congress of both parties to prioritize the following policy issues:

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Letter on LaSalle Nomination from Gender & Reproductive Justice Organizations and Leaders

Dear Governor Hochul, Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, and State Senators:

As organizations, advocates, and scholars who work and write on issues of reproductive and gender justice, we are deeply troubled by the nomination of Justice Hector LaSalle to serve as Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals. At a moment when the federal courts have gutted rights to reproductive autonomy, New York’s highest court should be a defender of New Yorkers’ reproductive and gender freedoms, not an ally in their diminution. Given his record, which includes curtailing a New York Attorney General investigation into predatory crisis pregnancy centers — a key weapon of the anti-abortion movement — we have grave concerns for a Court of Appeals headed by Justice LaSalle.

We urge the New York Senate to reject his nomination and the Governor to nominate a jurist who will safeguard the rights of New Yorkers.

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Coalition Letter to Susan Rice on Establishment of Domestic Human Rights Institution

Last October, President Biden proclaimed that the United States must demonstrate that its “commitment to human rights begins at home.” We, the undersigned, strongly support that sentiment and believe that this principle – that human rights begin at home – should be the basis for a bold approach to ensuring that everyone in the United States enjoys the rights and freedoms guaranteed by international human rights law.

The United States has been a historic leader in the global effort to establish universal standards of human rights protection, beginning with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. At the same time, while state and local authorities have increasingly looked to human rights standards to improve the lives of people, the federal government has not comprehensively integrated the United States’ human rights obligations into domestic law and policy and has resisted efforts to create domestic human rights monitoring, enforcement, and accountability mechanisms. Thus, as we mark the adoption of the Universal Declaration seventy-four years ago this month, we urge the Biden administration to make good on the President’s words by reinvigorating that leadership and starting the process of establishing a National Human Rights Institution (“NHRI”).

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Joint Statement at NGO Committee consultation with ECOSOC accredited NGOs

This is a group statement. We welcome the convening of this important meeting, mandated by paragraph 61(a) of ECOSOC resolution 1996/31. However, we deeply regret that this is only the second meeting since 1996 and urge Committee members to fulfil this mandate and organise consultations with accredited NGOs prior to each Committee session.

Resolution 1996/31 acknowledges the breadth of NGOs’ expertise, their capacity to support the UN’s work, and the need to consider the full diversity of NGOs at all levels. The Committee on NGOs is the gatekeeper to civil society access, and entrusted with monitoring the relationship between NGOs and the UN. Yet, the Committee’s practices violate its mandate.

Several Committee members ask repetitive and politically motivated questions to defer applications for consultative status for several years outside the scope of what NGOs are required to submit in their applications under ECOSOC resolution 1996/31. These arbitrary deferrals amount to de facto rejections - and affect NGOs working on human rights, democracy and the rule of law in particular. This is a form of reprisals against NGOs for attempting to engage with and contribute to the UN’s work.

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Joint civil society statement on the outcomes of UNGA 77 Third Committee

The undersigned civil society organisations mark the conclusion of the UN General Assembly’s (GA) 77th Third Committee session with the following observations on some thematic and country-specific resolutions considered at this session. We urge all States to implement the commitments they have made in the resolutions discussed below to their full extent.

We welcome the joint statement on the human rights situation in Xinjiang, China delivered by Canada on behalf of a cross-regional group of 50 countries. This statement echoes the UN Human Rights Office’s independent, objective analysis and its findings which the UN’s human rights office determined may amount to crimes against humanity, and urges China to implement that report’s recommendations, in particular on enforced disappearance. There was an increase in State support compared to last year, signaling hope for future initiatives to debate the situation and support victims to secure accountability. Nonetheless, there is more work to ensure support from member states, in the EU and globally, as well as from Muslim-majority countries. 

We welcome the joint statement on reprisals led by Ireland and joined by a cross-regional group of countries, calling on all States and the UN to prevent, respond to, and ensure accountability for cases of intimidation and reprisals against those who engage or seek to engage with the UN. We welcome that 80 States continued to sign on to the statement but urge more States to sign on to future such statements.

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Social media platforms must act against election-related violence, disinfo, hate

As we approach the midterm elections, it remains painfully clear that social media companies are still failing to protect candidates, voters, and elected officials from disinformation, misogyny, racism, transphobia, and violence. After the 2020 presidential election, Trump backers and MAGA Republicans attacked the United States Capitol in the hopes of undermining the democratic process and stopping electoral vote certification. Before the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, social media platforms like Twitter and Meta knew that white supremacist misogynists were using their platforms to organize violent actions, spread false information claiming Trump had won, and threaten election workers, mostly Black women in places like Georgia. Yet social media companies did little to protect us.

In fact, according to The New York Times, the phrase "Storm the Capitol" was used 100,000 times on social media platforms in the month preceding the attack. Facebook groups had 650,000 posts questioning the validity of the election between Election Day and the January 6 insurrection, including many posts that called for executions and other violence. Most of this violence, both online and at the Capitol, was driven by racist, misogynistic men, and many of them had records of domestic violence or sexual harassment and assault. Similarly, insurrectionists made numerous threats on social media against women leaders in Congress, including threatening to kill Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. These threats were in addition to the regular threats and harassment endured by women of color congressional leaders: A study by ISD Global of 2020 candidates found that women of color candidates receive more abusive messages on social media, with Reps. Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez getting the most.

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Castro, Jacobs Call for Biden Administration to Affirm Global Commitment to Protecting Sexual and Reproductive Rights Post¬-Dobbs

Dear Mr. Visek:

We are deeply concerned by the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In the wake of this decision, we appreciate Secretary Blinken’s stated commitment to “helping provide access to reproductive health services and advancing reproductive rights around the world.” We write to you today because we believe the Dobbs decision is not only harmful to individuals in the United States who seek safe, legal access to abortions, but it also impacts the U.S. commitment to international human rights and its legal obligations, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention Against Torture (CAT), and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which have all been ratified by the United States.

International human rights bodies have affirmed that access to abortion upholds key human rights, including the right to life, health, non-discrimination, information, and privacy. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) contains important and relevant protections for access to abortion. In 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee, which oversees implementation of the ICCPR, made clear in General Comment 36 that the right to life, enshrined in Article 6 of the Covenant, includes the right to access safe and legal abortion without the imposition of restrictions which subject women and girls to physical or mental pain or suffering, discriminate against them, arbitrarily interfere with their privacy, or place them at risk of undertaking unsafe abortions. The Committee noted that, under Article 6, State parties may not introduce new barriers to abortion and should remove existing barriers that deny effective access by women and girls to safe and legal abortion.

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Letter Supporting Abortion Rights for Veterans Affairs Patients

Dear Under Secretary for Health Dr. Elnahal:

As organizations committed to protecting and expanding abortion access for all people, including service members, veterans, and their family members, we commend the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (“VA”) for its Interim Final Rule (“IFR”) on Reproductive Health Services. This IFR will provide essential abortion care and counseling to veterans and their family members in the midst of the current reproductive health care crisis. Access to abortion is essential to veterans’ freedom to make decisions about their health and well-being, and this IFR is a critical action toward ensuring they have control over their bodies, lives, and futures.

As a part of this country’s commitment to providing for the needs of veterans after they leave the military, VA has been directed by Congress to “promote, preserve, or restore the health” of the veterans they serve—and this includes ensuring access to abortion without political interference. Lacking access to abortion care and adequate reproductive health services can have profound impacts, including financial insecurity, increased risk of intimate partner violence, and maternal and neonatal deaths. These impacts are disproportionately felt by marginalized communities in the U.S who have long faced systemic barriers to health care—including Black, Indigenous, and people of color, low-income people, rural populations, LGBTQI people, people with disabilities, and immigrants.

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An Open Letter to the Florida Board of Medicine

We, a coalition of national and community-based organizations, grassroots groups, public officials, faith-based leaders and faith communities, and healthcare professionals who work in Florida, strongly condemn the Florida Board of Medicine’s recent decision to begin the rule-making process to create Florida-specific “standards of care” for gender-affirming healthcare for transgender, non-binary, and gender-diverse youth. Despite the Board of Medicine’s claims to be an apolitical body acting on behalf of all Florida residents, the board meeting on August 5th, 2022, revealed an explicitly political agenda. Governor Ron Desantis’ hand-picked appointees on the Board of Medicine initiated these proceedings as one of several policy attacks on LGBTQ+ people in Florida.

We condemn the actions of Governor Ron DeSantis, Surgeon General Ladapo, the Florida Board of Medicine, and the Florida Department of Health, for their intentional misrepresentation of scientific research, their deliberate exclusion of the vast body of scientific research that demonstrates the benefits of gender-affirming healthcare, and their assertion of the explicitly transphobic, scientifically debunked, so-called “social contagion theory.” We also condemn the Florida Board of Medicine’s decision to call on the overtly transphobic, biased, and discredited Dr. Quentin Van Meter. Van Meter’s “American College of Pediatricians” organization is an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group, not a medical authority.

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Google Maps and Crisis Pregnancy Centers Sign On Letter

Dear Mr. Pichai and Mr. Phillips,

We are writing to ask that Google stop accepting advertisements from anti-abortion clinics, including Crisis Pregnancy Centers, due to their intentionally misleading and harmful impacts on people seeking reproductive health services.

As you know, the Supreme Court's ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization opened the door for states across the country to enact restrictions on abortion care, including outright bans and criminalization.

We believe Big Tech companies like Google have the power to protect their users from disinformation, misinformation, privacy intrusions, and harassment when they utilize your search and location services, including Google Maps and Google search.

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President Biden: Stop Israeli Government’s Attacks on Palestinian Civil Society

Dear Mr. President:

We write because your administration’s consistently yielding response to the Israeli government’s escalating attacks against prominent Palestinian human rights and civil society groups over the past 10 months has put the safety and well-being of Palestinian human rights defenders at serious risk. We call for immediate action in response to the Israeli government’s latest escalation so as to curtail any further imminent repressive tactics by Israeli authorities and ensure Palestinian civil society is free to continue its critical work.

Last week, in a significant escalation, Israeli military forces raided the offices of seven Palestinian human rights and community organizations in the occupied West Bank on 18 August 2022, sealing shut their doors, ordering them closed, and seizing computers and other confidential materials. In the following days, directors of the organizations were summoned by the Israeli military and Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) for interrogation. All staff are currently under threat of imminent arrest and prosecution. While many in the international community were swift to condemn the Israeli governments shameful political maneuver in October 2021 designating leading Palestinian human rights organizations as “terrorist” under Israel’s draconian Counter-Terrorism Law, your administration has refused to act or reject this clear attack on Palestinian civil society, and even took affirmative steps including canceling the valid U.S. visa held by the head of one of the targeted organizations. The response so far has only enabled and empowered the Israeli government to sustain and escalate its repression.

The targeted organizations form part of the bedrock of Palestinian civil society that has been protecting and advancing Palestinian human rights for decades across the full spectrum of issues of global concern, including children’s rights, prisoners’ rights, women’s rights, socio-economic rights, the rights of farmworkers, and justice and accountability for international crimes. They include: Defense for Children International - Palestine, Al Haq, Addameer, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees. They are trusted partners in our collective work to secure human rights for all.

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