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Democratic lawmakers ask State Department to review whether state abortion laws comply with human rights commitments



Two Democratic members of Congress are asking the State Department’s top lawyer to remind state and local governments of their human rights commitments and to review how state laws pertaining to abortion access “comply with international human rights and treaty obligations,” according to a letter reviewed by CNN.

“In particular, we ask that the State Department confirm U.S. support for and understanding of international human rights protections for abortion to the relevant UN bodies, including and especially the UN Human Rights Committee,” Reps. Joaquin Castro of Texas and Sara Jacobs of California wrote to Richard Visek, the department’s acting legal adviser.

They also asked the legal advisory to “clarify” the US commitment to protecting abortion access globally.

The lawmakers’ push comes after President Joe Biden promised earlier this week to put abortion rights into law as his party looks to seize on the politically divisive issue in the final push ahead of the midterm elections. Democrats have hoped that abortion rights would galvanize and mobilize voters ahead of the midterm elections after the Supreme Court earlier this year struck down Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion.

“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,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter, adding that they “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.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken put out a statement following the Supreme Court’s June decision, because of the questions it triggered across the State Department workforce.

“So let me be clear: under this Administration, the State Department will remain fully committed to helping provide access to reproductive health services and advancing reproductive rights around the world. And this Department will do everything possible to ensure that all our employees have access to reproductive health services, wherever they live,” he said at the time.

The Democratic lawmakers, acknowledging their appreciation for Blinken’s remarks, wrote that they are looking for the department to reaffirm its commitments – particularly from the legal adviser, who has a key role in appearing before human rights treaty bodies.

“Regression on abortion rights” domestically, they argued, threatens America’s global standing as a leader on human rights.

“The perception of waning U.S. commitment to the protection of women’s rights and to international law more broadly would be especially harmful because the United States has historically championed women’s rights and reproductive rights,” the letter states.

The Trump administration held a different stance on the issue of global abortion access, with then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arguing against a “proliferation” of human rights.

The US is currently bound to treaties that protect access to abortion, and there are other treaties that the US has signed but not ratified that provide abortion access protections. There may be opportunities in the coming year for the US to participate in treaty reviews, a congressional staffer with knowledge of the letter told CNN.

“The previous administration did disavow reproductive rights as human rights and this administration has clarified that the United States does uphold reproductive rights,” the congressional staffer said. “There may be other opportunities during this administration, for the US to present its record and to be very clear about what the administration’s commitments are and how it’s seeking to uphold those commitments.”


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