State Department report will trim language on women’s rights, discrimination

State Department officials have been ordered to pare back passages in a soon-to-be-released annual report on global human rights that traditionally discuss women’s reproductive rights and discrimination, according to five former and current department officials.

The directive calls for stripping passages that describe societal views on family planning, including how much access women have to contraceptives and abortion.

A broader section that chronicles racial, ethnic and sexual discrimination has also been ordered pared down, the current and former officials said.

The move, believed to have been ordered by a top aide to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, reflects the Trump administration’s rightward turn from the Obama administration on family planning issues. It also appears to highlight the stated desire of Tillerson and President Donald Trump to make human rights a lower priority in U.S. foreign policy.

Some career State Department officials — particularly female staffers — are suspicious of the motives behind the changes, which they fear could undermine the report’s impact and integrity. A State Department spokesperson said any changes were being made for focus and “clarity.”

“This sends a clear signal that women’s reproductive rights are not a priority for this administration, and that it’s not even a rights violation we must or should report on,” one serving State Department official said.

The sources did not know the name of the aide who gave the instruction, but understood the person to have a senior position.

The report is relied on by a range of people, from U.S. lawmakers to political activists. Asylum seekers from countries such as China, for instance, have cited the report to support claims that they are subject to forced sterilization or abortion.

Past human rights reports have covered the issue of women’s reproductive rights in detail, offering numerous statistics and anecdotes to paint a picture of the conditions in particular countries.

Last year, Tillerson broke with tradition and chose not to personally unveil his department’s human rights report — dismaying activists and lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who believe human rights should be a pillar of U.S. foreign policy.

(Excerpted from Politico 2/21/18)