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Susan Yoshihara

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US rebuffs Europe’s plea to fund abortions abroad

Susan Yoshihara

NEW YORK, September 10, 2015 (C-Fam) The Obama administration told the UN last week that it would not contravene a U.S. law that prohibits it from funding abortions overseas.

The announcement came in an official response to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The U.S. submitted its original report in February and 46 nations on the council were allowed to criticize the U.S.’s performance on human rights in the form of “recommendations.” The U.S. response last week detailed which recommendations it supports and which it rejected.

Many of the 343 recommendations hewed closely to reports submitted to council members by U.S. human rights activists, such as criticizing U.S. prosecution of terrorists through the use of force, communications surveillance, and interrogation, as well as law enforcement related to the treatment immigrants, racial minorities, and juveniles.

Organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch claim that laws protecting unborn babies from abortion are a violation of international human rights.

The U.S. response came as a blow to these groups because it did not commit to reinterpreting or “clarifying” the Helms Amendment, the 42 year-old U.S. law that prohibits federal funding or promotion of abortion abroad. In 2010, the New York-based Global Justice Center claimed credit when Norway told the U.S. to reinterpret the Helms amendment. This year 5 more European countries joined in.

In its response, the U.S. said, “We do not support” Norway’s recommendation for the “removal of blanket restrictions on abortion in cases of rape, life or health endangerment and incest,” the UK’s call to “Clarify its interpretation of the Helms Amendment” to pay for international abortions, Belgium’s assertion that the U.S. should “Allow foreign assistance to support safe abortion services” where legal, nor the Netherlands’ recommendation that the U.S. should “Interpret the Helms Amendment” to fund abortion for “women and girls raped and impregnated in conflict situations.”

The U.S. agrees with the “principle” of “addressing the needs of women who have been victims of sexual violence in conflict” but not with France’s recommendation that its foreign aid “allows access to sexual and reproductive health services” for them.

To Sweden’s recommendation that it should subjugate religious objections to “international human rights standards that protect sexual and reproductive rights” and “sexual orientation or gender identity,” the U.S. supports it “insofar as it recommends compliance with our domestic law and international human rights obligations, including regarding freedom of religion.”

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Regarding international law more broadly, the U.S. said it has no current plans to remove reservations, understandings, and declarations that it made when ratifying treaties, nor to establish a single national human rights institution. Federal agencies would follow up on “supported” recommendations and would also consider recommendations by UN committees that monitor compliance with human rights treaties.

The U.S. rejected recommendations based on treaties the U.S. has not ratified or on non-binding UN resolutions. In so doing, it offered an implicit reminder to the Human Rights Council that Americans do not equate protection of economic and social rights with publicly-funded benefits, but rather they are to be “realized progressively.”

Pro-life advocates welcomed the defense of U.S. law, but remain wary. One expert close to the administration told the Friday Fax, “The White House has made it clear that it wants to reinterpret the Helms Amendment to fund overseas abortions, but it may just be waiting for the opportune time politically.”

Reprinted with permission from C-Fam

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