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Health Reform and Human Rights: Does the U.S. Measure Up?

Written by Cynthia SooHoo for - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

This article is part of a series published by RH Reality Check in partnership with the Center for Reproductive Rights. It is also published in recognition of International Human Rights Day, December 10th, 2010.

CRR participated in the Universal Periodic Review, (UPR) a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years. 

The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations. The UPR was created through the UN General Assembly on 15 March 2006 by resolution 60/251, which established the Human Rights Council itself. It is a cooperative process which, by 2011, will have reviewed the human rights records of every country. Currently, no other universal mechanism of this kind exists. The UPR is one of the key elements of the new Council which reminds States of their responsibility to fully respect and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The ultimate aim of this new mechanism is to improve the human rights situation in all countries and address human rights violations wherever they occur.

After the midterm elections, Republican leaders are claiming a mandate to undo healthcare reform.   Last month, there was an opportunity to look at healthcare in the U.S. through a different lens – one less focused on the "evils of Obamacare" and more focused on whether the U.S. healthcare system is actually set up to ensure that people can get the medical services that they need. 

Three days after the midterm election, the U.S. engaged in a three-hour dialogue with the United Nations Human Rights Council to discuss its human rights record as part of a process called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).  The Council set up the UPR in 2006.  As part of the process, countries submit self-assessments every four years and then respond to questions from the Council and other U.N. member nations.

Although there wasn’t sufficient to time to question the U.S. delegation in-depth, one way in which the U.S. departs from the international community is its failure to recognize healthcare as a human right. During its review, the U.S. did express a commitment to democratic solutions to enable American to live healthy lives and cited the new health reform law as a means to address the affordability of medical services.  But it neglected to go further and commit to addressing persistent barriers to sexual and reproductive health. Too often in the United States, your ability to get healthcare depends on where you live, your race or gender.  Whether you’re eligible for health coverage.  Or the kind of health services you need.   For many groups and types of healthcare service, stigma and marginalization result in significant barriers to accessing healthcare.  Access to sexual and reproductive healthcare is a prime example.

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