Commission on Unalienable Rights and the Effort to Erase Reproductive Rights as Human Rights

HRLR Online October 31, 2019
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Risa E. Kaufman is the director of U.S. Human Rights at the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Lecturer-in-Law at Columbia Law School.

What underlies the Administration’s effort to examine human rights through the State Department’s newly created Commission on Unalienable Rights? And what is at stake? The asserted purpose of the Commission, as announced in July 2019 by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is to examine human rights in light of “foundational documents” and provide advice to the Secretary on the development of human rights principles to guide U.S. foreign policy. Advocates have raised concern that the Commission, which includes a chair and members with well-known and extreme positions opposing reproductive rights and LGBTQI rights, is subterfuge for rolling back rights protections for women, LGBTQI people, and other marginalized and vulnerable communities. These concerns are well-founded, including and particularly with respect to reproductive rights. This essay (1) highlights and counters the Administration’s assertion of confusion over the status of reproductive rights as human rights, (2) examines the Administration’s attempts to purge reproductive rights from the global discourse, and (3) explores its attacks on reproductive rights within the United States to probe an underlying interest in undermining rights, including reproductive rights, through the creation of the Commission.

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