U.K. Undermines Plan for Women’s Economic Empowerment Over Abortion

By | October 23, 2020

WASHINGTON D.C., October 23 (C-Fam) The United States launched a global plan for women’s economic development today. A sour note, however, was introduced by the United Kingdom’s attempt to put abortion at the heart of the plan.

“Sexual and reproductive rights, including abortion, are an important part of this (women’s empowerment),” said Ambassador of the United Kingdom to the U.S. government, Dame Karen Pierce. She made the comment at the virtual launch of the “Global Call to Action on Women’s Economic Empowerment” held by the U.S. State Department earlier today.

The political statement was joined by 32 countries and reflects international support for the White House’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, spearheaded by Ivanka Trump.

First daughter Ivanka Trump emphasized how her initiative is about economic freedom and opportunity. She has promoted a targeted programmatic focus on “foundational legal reforms” like ensuring women have access to institutions, credit, are able to manage property, can travel freely and can work in all sectors. Ivanka Trump said just these five reforms would add over $7 trillion to global GDP.

The U.S.-led call for action only focuses on widely accepted policies to help women participate in the economy. The political statement is worded broadly. It calls for an “overall enabling environment of policies, laws, regulations, and practices that affect women’s economic participation” in an attempt to side-steps the culture wars altogether.

The declaration is void of health entirely which helps eliminate controversial areas that stall progress on multilateral women’s economic advancement programs. It does not mention abortion or “sexual and reproductive health,” a common euphemism for abortion in the international community. Countries that promote abortion internationally, including Germany, France, and Canada likely did not sign the call-to-action for this reason. These countries, along with the Nordics, normally insist that any policy to help women must also include “sexual and reproductive health” because they want to establish abortion as a human right that can never be denied.

Despite signing the political statement, the UK pledged to keep working to make abortion part of the initiative, “so that women’s economic empowerment can truly take off.”

“We know we have a disagreement on that particular issue,” Pierce said coolly. She argued that abortion could not be kept out because, she claimed, it is an international right rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which the U.S. has ratified.

“It is very firmly our belief that sexual and reproductive rights need to be part of this,” Pierce said, turning to U.S. Ambassador for Women’s Issues, Kelley Currie. “You and I have talked about it many times,” she added.

Pierce’s comments sounded a note of discord with the rest of the event.

Secretary Pompeo explained the initiative at the outset of the event in terms of securing unalienable rights.

Other ministers and ambassadors emphasized policies to help women balance work and family and recognize the value of the role of women in the family.

“Gender equality and strengthening of family are mutually reinforcing and both have a role in helping women achieve their full potential,” said Hungarian Ambassador to the UN Katalin Bogyay, who promoted Hungary’s generous pro-family policies.

The White House’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, launched in 2018, has appropriated over $300 million. Keeping abortion off the agenda was a challenge since the beginning. Whether it remains off the agenda depends on who occupied the White House. It is unlikely that a Biden administration would continue attempts to keep it free of controversy.