The UN Abortion Debate Has Shifted in Our Favor

By | January 1, 2021

NEW YORK, January 1 (C-Fam) Twelve years ago, the Bush administration caved in on the phrase “reproductive health.” Even though they knew it was used to promote abortion, they allowed it into the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It remains the only hard law treaty where that phrase appears. This is how slack the Bush administration had become.

Following Bush, during the Obama years, the phrase was sprinkled like salt on meat in dozens, even hundreds of non-binding UN documents. At the beginning of the Trump administration, it got so bad that a significant pro-life group, along with a staff member of an essential and otherwise pro-life UN delegation, announced the term was “clean” and therefore could be accepted whenever it appeared.

One of the significant accomplishments of the Trump administration, along with pro-life organizations at the UN, has been to make that poisonous term controversial again. Utterly reversing tactics, Trump and his team decided they would 1) reject the term, 2) replace the term, or 3) insist on defining the term as excluding abortion. We rarely take a personal victory lap, but quite frankly, this tactic came from the personnel of C-Fam. Furthermore, it was an uphill battle. Pro-lifers inside and outside the administration had to fight other pro-life groups who were against it, while also fighting pro-abortion extremists inside the administration. But it was done: Trump drew a bright red line around that poisonous term.

Perhaps the crowning achievement during these years was the recently-accomplished Geneva Consensus Declaration that reaffirms there is no international right to abortion, and the question of abortion as a matter of law must be left up to sovereign states and not to international institutions. Thirty-four governments have signed onto that document, which has been registered with the UN General Assembly.

What has happened is that Trump has injected new life in the pro-life movement internationally. He has moved the Overton window of what is acceptable discourse at the UN on abortion. He took the fight to the UN rather than trying to ignore the gradual encroachment of the abortion regime around the world through UN documents and UN bodies.

Consider this more closely: The Trump administration got 33 other countries to declare and reaffirm in the Geneva Consensus Declaration not only that “abortion is not an international right” but also that the “family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society.” The legal significance of this declaration is enormous. It ensures that for the next ten to fifteen years, at least, we will not witness the development of an international right to abortion. And it is difficult not to understate how major and historic this declaration is in the history of the pro-life movement more broadly.

President Trump has made abortion controversial at the United Nations like never before. Even the Holy See in 1994 at the International Conference on Population and Development, when abortion first came into UN policy, got only a handful of countries to make reservations about abortion.

It is essential to recognize that this has been a team effort. The administration has worked closely with civil society. For nearly 30 years, the UN pro-life fight has been conducted by a band of small organizations at the UN. We would be remiss if we did not mention a few of them who were here in the beginning and gave years of their lives to this cause. Peter Smith of Great Britain and Jeanne Head of the United States were the stalwarts of this movement for many years. It is the collective experience and accumulated wisdom of this band of embattled pro-life warriors that the Trump administration has been able to be successful and to push the ball forward for the pro-life cause.

Finally, this has not been the effort of a single government. The U.S. found common cause with a few dozen governments who have been at this for decades, many from the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Asia, the Caribbean, even Europe.

We are grateful for them all.


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