Trump Contests “Sexual and Reproductive Health” at UN but Fails to Rollback Abortion Language

By | December 7, 2018

NEW YORK, December 7 (C-Fam) Trump administration pro-life diplomacy has led to a series of unprecedented votes at UN headquarters to exclude abortion from UN policy, but to roll back the UN gains of the abortion industry and its supporters under the Obama administration stronger political will is needed.

U.S. diplomats introduced, withdrew, and then reintroduced a volley of amendments from the floor of the General Assembly’s third committee to either qualify or delete the term “sexual and reproductive health” in several UN resolutions on women and children, a term that has become ubiquitous in UN agreements in recent years.

The U.S. amendments were defeated. But up to 44 countries supported the U.S. amendments at one point, and 73 countries voted against “sexual and reproductive health” in a separate vote that was successful.

These unprecedented votes show just how much “sexual and reproductive health” remains contested, despite efforts to make the term ubiquitous. And it demonstrates that the U.S. is not isolated in its pro-life position despite European efforts to make it appear so.

Even so, the U.S. had little to show for its efforts. All the resolutions negotiated by the Trump administration retained the same number of references to “sexual and reproductive health” as the last time they were adopted. The Trump administration has not been able to rollback these terms in UN resolutions as in other contexts, such as in G20 and G7 agreements.

While the U.S. took deliberate steps throughout negotiations to oppose “sexual and reproductive health” they stopped well short of achieving what delegates sympathetic to the pro-life cause expected and what pro-life organizations asked President Trump to do in a letter addressed to him prior to the commencement of the General Assembly.

Delegates sympathetic to the U.S. position against abortion had hoped the U.S. would take more drastic action in UN negotiations, including calling for a vote on contested resolutions.

They found the lack of resolve by the U.S. confusing, indicating that the life issue was secondary to other U.S. priorities. Blocking abortion-related terms in UN policy did not rise to the same level as opposing “collective rights. This notion caused the U.S. to call a vote against an entire resolution on the rights of the peasant.

UN resolutions are normally adopted by consensus, without a vote, unless a country objects strongly to something in the resolution. No Republican administration has ever called a vote on a UN resolution because of pro-life concerns.

At last year’s General Assembly, the U.S. failed to engage on the controversial term largely due to Trump administration political appointees not yet in place. By Spring this personnel change led to U.S. diplomats actively opposing “sexual and reproductive health” in UN negotiations. And, recent leaks from the State Department contained rumors of a new strategy to contest abortion-related terms internationally. This led delegates and pro-life advocates to believe an inevitable showdown would occur during this General Assembly.

European, Nordic and many Latin American countries are responsible for the proliferation of abortion and sexual rights language in UN resolutions, and they are openly opposing U.S. pro-life diplomacy.

Future votes on the controversial phrase could find even more Member State supporting if the U.S. State Department takes steps to communicate its desired outcome to capitals. The U.S. will have an opportunity to further amend resolutions and make its positions known beginning next week in the General Assembly plenary, where it would matter most. Until now, most U.S. pro-life efforts have been in committee sessions, where they have no legal effect.

Delegates willing to support the U.S. position told the Friday Fax the only instructions received from the U.S. State Department were on traditional U.S. foreign policy priorities. In contrast, European countries sent communications to capitals and called UN ambassadors asking for continued support of sexual and reproductive health language.