Mike Pompeo Is Wrong: There *Is* an International Right to Abortion

As reluctant as Pompeo and the rest of the Trump administration may be to follow the law, the fact remains: The U.S. is party to a number of human rights treaties that protect abortion rights—and adhering to these treaties is a legal requirement.

Mike Pompeo is Wrong: There *Is* an International Right to Abortion
U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo delivers remarks to the media in Washington, D.C., April 2020. (U.S. Department of State / Flickr)

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed the Geneva Consensus Declaration, a U.S.-led document that fired yet another shot across the bow at reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy. Bookended by a bizarre montage video, the signing ceremony was touted as a watershed moment in the fight against an international movement to declare a right to abortion at the expense of traditional family values.

The only problem? There very much is an international right to abortion.

The good news, at least, is the declaration is not legally binding. As reluctant as Pompeo and the rest of the Trump administration may be to follow the law, the fact remains that the United States is party to a number of human rights treaties that protect abortion rights—and adhering to these treaties is a legal requirement.

Among those are the Convention against Torture (CAT) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These treaties protect abortion through the rights to life (that is, the right to live in dignity and without having your life ended arbitrarily by the state), health, non-discrimination, privacy and freedom from torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. 

In 2018, the Human Rights Committee, which monitors compliance with the ICCPR and other treaties, stated in its General Comment on the right to life that, “Restrictions on the ability of women or girls to seek abortion must not…jeopardize their lives, subject them to physical or mental pain or suffering, discriminate against them or arbitrarily interfere with their privacy.”

It also forbids countries to “regulate pregnancy or abortion in all other cases in a manner that runs contrary to their duty to ensure that women and girls do not have to undertake unsafe abortions.”

Unsurprisingly, the U.S. regularly violates these laws. The self-proclaimed “pro-woman” and “pro-health” Trump administration did just the opposite of what the Human Rights Committee recommended when it expanded the global gag rule, devastated family planning clinics in the U.S. through the domestic gag rule, and stood by as hundreds of thousands of Americans died of COVID-19.

Mike Pompeo is Wrong: There *Is* an International Right to Abortion
Planned Parenthood National Lobby Day in D.C in April 2011. (ALL / Flickr)

Thirty-two other countries signed onto the declaration, only two of which allow abortion upon request. Traditional U.S. allies like Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union bloc are noticeably absent and the declaration’s cosponsors—Brazil, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia and Uganda —have especially dismal records on reproductive freedom and gender equality. 

So, let’s take a look at some of the authoritarian regimes with whom Pompeo has allied the U.S. in his crusade against safe abortion, international accountability and science.


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Hungary

Hungarian Minister of Family Katalin Novak, who at the signing ceremony railed against a “culture of indoctrination and preaching…in the name of gender ideology, ideological neo-colonialism, and sex education,” was one of the architects of Hungary’s pronatalist policies to provide tax breaks and loan forgiveness to women who have more than four children. This was a deliberate attempt by the ruling far right to outnumber and replace its immigrant population.

Novak also happens to be the chair of the Political Network for Values, an international association of far-right politicians who oppose, among others, reproductive rights and the rights of LGBTQ people. 

Brazil

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ernesto Araújo and Minister of Women, Family, and Human Rights Damares Alves represented Brazil at the ceremony. Both were appointed by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who openly waxes nostalgic for the days of military dictatorship and has compared same-sex marriage to pedophilia.

Araújo himself believes that climate change is a Marxist plot and enjoys blogging about his desire to liberate Brazil from anti-Christian, anti-human globalist influences. Alves, a lawyer and evangelical pastor, last year urged prosecutors to open a criminal investigation against a magazine that published the World Health Organization’s guidelines on safe abortion. 

The Geneva declaration and its sordid signees are yet another chilling reminder of the lengths to which Pompeo and the rest of the Trump administration will go in their reckless campaign against reproductive freedom. The U.S. is scheduled for a public review of its rights record by the Human Rights Committee on Nov. 9—and we can be sure that its unprecedented and illegal attacks on our human right to abortion access will be front and center.

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About

Merrite Johnson is the Program Coordinator at the Global Justice Center. She holds a Master’s degree in Comparative Politics from New York University, focusing on women's political participation in post-conflict countries.