Planned Parenthood Global Year in Review: The Best — and Worst — Moments for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) in 2015

2015 was a year filled with notable progress and alarming setbacks for sexual and reproductive health and rights, from groundbreaking new global goals to horrific, violent attacks on reproductive health centers.

We saw consensus at the highest levels about the need to promote SRHR, while the opposition, perhaps in direct response, intensified their strategies, at times incited hatred and violence towards health care providers, patients and advocates. The opposition continued to co-opt human rights language and frameworks in their unending effort to restrict rights. The world watched as authorities jailed women for miscarriages in El Salvador, and an increase both in the U.S. and globally of harmful crisis pregnancy centers contributed to the perpetuation of religious dogma and medical misinformation as replacement for medical expertise and true access to abortion and other reproductive health care. Among many other setbacks, we witnessed a wave of legislation limiting access to safe abortions, most recently in the Dominican Republic, where a total ban was reinstated in early December.

Despite the opposition’s global presence, SRHR and LGBT activists set the stage for a more equitable and inclusive 2016. Some of the events of the past year were truly remarkable — and some were truly cringe-worthy. Here’s our year in review: the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good: Top Moments In 2015

  1. New Global Goals Are A Win For Women and Girls

World leaders gathered in New York City in September for the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, where states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This bold agenda defined 17 global sustainable development goals (SDGs) such as eradicating poverty and charting urgent action on climate change. The goals were a win for women and girls, containing strong language in the health (Goal 3) and gender (Goal 5) goals around sexual and reproductive health care that could have great implications for health access here in the U.S. and around the globe, and providing a way forward for SRHR advocates.We strongly urge governments, including the U.S., to follow through on their commitments to make this ambitious agenda a reality.

2) Ban Ki-Moon Calls for “Recognition, Respect and Rights” for LGBT People

Also at the UN this year, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon held a special session on LGBT issues, where he stated that “the United Nations will always stand with you in your fight for recognition, respect and rights,” drawing the ire of opposition groups. On International Human Rights Day, UNDP launched an index that will assist governments in measuring the inclusion of LGBT people. And in response to the hateful rhetoric around SRHR and LGBT rights, the UN called for a movement to stem the wave of hate speech in order to protect human rights for all including gender identity, sexual orientation, religion and choices in reproductive healthcare.

3) New Laws in Thailand and Bolivia Extend Protections to LGBT People

LGBT advocates had several wins this year with Thailand’s government passing a gender equality law in September that provided protections from discrimination on the grounds of gender identity. Bolivian lawmakers voted in December to allow adult transgender people to legally change their name and gender on government documents.

4) Abortion Laws Liberalized in Ireland and Sierra Leone

From Northern Ireland, a fiercely conservative region, came a momentous ruling declaring that the country’s protective abortion laws violate a European human rights treaty. Sierra Leone most recently removed all restrictions and legalized abortions adding to a welcome list of developing nations that are liberalising policies in order to save lives.

5) Déjala Decidir Campaign Pushes for Decriminalization of Abortion in Peru

Planned Parenthood Global partners in Peru have been leading efforts on the Déjala Decidir campaign to push for decriminalization in cases of rape in Peru. The campaign had been gaining momentum all summer, with plenty of positive press coverage, when the Peruvian First Lady, and president of the ruling party, Nadine Heredia, tweeted a photo of herself and two daughters in support of the campaign. Following that, on a live TV interview, the President himself came out in support of abortion rights! (Link is in Spanish.) This is a huge win in a region where many politicians fail to take such a strong stance in support of women’s rights.

The Bad: Setbacks in 2015

  1. Attacks on Human Rights at the UN

Though all member states adopted the SDGs by consensus, several still entered official reservations, many of which address goals and targets impacting SRHR, gender equality, and non-discrimination. C-FAM reported that Nigeria and other members have objections to goals three and five. The Vatican, while accepting most of the goals, expressed objections to all references of abortion and contraception, despite the words not actually appearing in the text. Saudi Arabia protested against any inclusion for LGBT rights in the SDGs. These objections pose significant barriers to implementation as well as ensuring that governments track indicators they deem sensitive.

2) Disingenuous Attacks Against Planned Parenthood Exported Overseas

In July 2015, Planned Parenthood was the target of a vicious smear campaign that sought to undermine access to health care for all, including abortion. Subsequently following the US smear campaign, our opposition experts saw a ripple effect of anti-abortion and anti-contraception groups using this bogus attack as an excuse to target PPFA partners and allies in Latin America and Europe, and calling for legal changes and defunding efforts.

3) World Congress of Families Comes to the U.S.; Opposition Successfully Infiltrates Other Global Gatherings

In October of 2015, the World Congress of Families, the notoriously anti-LGBT and anti-SRHR World Congress of Families (WCF) held an international conference in Salt Lake City, bringing together thousands of the most hateful extremists from around the world. Designated an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Conference included speakers like Senator Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael, who called LGBT advocates pedophiles and smeared transgender people; Nigeria’s anti-LGBT activist Theresa Okafor, who has compared LGBT people to the terrorist group Boko Haram. WCF has been successful in promoting anti-LGBT laws and homophobia, and contributing to hate-based violence against LGBT people across the globe, from Russia to Nigeria to Australia. Meanwhile, the Summit of the Americas, an annual meeting for OAS heads of state to discuss regional issues, was held on April 9–11, 2015 in Panama. This year the opposition movement, especially youth groups and a number of anti-SRHR/LGBT groups, presented a stronger showing than in previous years. The opposition is increasingly co-opting regional dialogue spaces that engage both civil society and the political sector. They have been particularly active at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. A notable result was the Panama Declaration, a short document calling for the protection of the traditional family and widely promoted on social networks. Many of these leaders were also present during the launch of the new global network, the Political Network for Values, at the UN last year, a group of extremely conservative and dangerously powerful government leaders who oppose SRHR and LGBT rights. This is a group to be watched in 2016 and beyond.

4) Pope’s Global Travels Leave Many Unclear on — and Underwhelmed by — his Stance on Key Issues

In the Pope’s visit to the U.S. in September, Pope Francis spread a message of peace and acceptance. Except, apparently, when it comes to SRHR and LGBT issues. While Pope Francis’ announcement that all priests will be authorized to forgive the “sin of abortion” was arguably a step in the right direction as he appears to try and understand and take a more caring approach, he failed to recognize the reality that abortion is a normal part of reproductive health care, and it is not something that women should be shamed or judged for — and many women will not need to seek forgiveness for their conscience-based decision. He also asked members of Congress to “defend life at every stage of development” and called on Congress to abolish the death penalty, while declining to comment on active anti-abortion legislation. He went on to say that “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.” Reiterating with: “I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity.” Many LGBT activists called for Pope Francis to address LGBT rights and denounce the stigma and discrimination faced by many across the globe, however, his speeches continue to be vague and unclear on whether he truly calls for acceptance and tolerance for all.

5) US Policy Affects SRHR Access Worldwide

The Helms Amendment has been restricting women’s access to much-needed health care for more than 40 years, and unfortunately 2015 was no different. U.S. foreign policy already prohibits funding abortion only “as a method of family planning,” but global health funding programs currently extend beyond the letter of the law by interpreting this to prohibit funding for all abortion — even in the cases of rape, incest or a life-endangering pregnancy. Even in countries where abortion is legal, barriers to accessing care include women’s lack of knowledge about their rights, cultural stigma, financial hardship, geographic obstacles, and limited numbers of trained health care providers. The Helms Amendment adds an additional barrier to accessing this care.

This lesser known consequence of the Helms amendment is that the US is getting a bad rap abroad and skewing perceptions that the majority of Americans are anti-choice, despite polls showing the opposite. No woman should be turned away from the care she needs, especially when she is raped or faces a pregnancy which threatens her life. It’s time for the U.S. to support abortion for rape victims in other countries.

In Conclusion…

Looking ahead to 2016, we fully expect to be confronted with a fiercely organized and funded global opposition in the coming year, one that will likely continue to play dirty and co-opt our movement’s language to instill fear and miseducation. But despite recent setbacks and ongoing attacks, the progress made by activists around the world in 2015 should serve as a jumping point that can and will propel SRHR and LGBT rights even further in 2016, with louder, more visible and united voices. The UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and the UN Commission on Population and Development (CPD) held in New York City in March and April 2016 respectively, offer opportunities for activists and advocates to organize and prepare for the global opposition’s strategy and to foment a more proactive strategy going forward.

Benjamin Clapham is a Global Advocacy Officer at Planned Parenthood Federation of America.