At the United Nations General Assembly on Monday, the United States presented a joint statement declaring that there is no “international right” to abortion and calling on the governing body to stop using euphemistic terms to describe abortion in its official documents.
“We do not support references to ambiguous terms and expressions, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights in U.N. documents, because they can undermine the critical role of the family and promote practices, like abortion,” said Alex Azar, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, in his remarks at a U.N. meeting on universal health coverage. Azar delivered his statement on behalf of the U.S. and 18 other member countries.
“There is no international right to an abortion,” Azar added, “and these terms should not be used to promote pro-abortion policies and measures.” He argued that the use of vague terms ignores both the role of the family in health and “the sovereign right of nations to implement health policies,” and that this ambiguous language allows for misinterpretation when policies are implemented to give the U.N.’s imprimatur to abortion expansions.
This statement from the U.S. to the U.N. General Assembly is consistent with the Trump administration’s policies involving the provision and funding of abortion overseas. One of President Trump’s first actions after taking office in January 2017 was to sign an executive order reinstating the Mexico City policy, which prevents foreign-aid groups that provide or promote abortion in other countries from receiving U.S. aid funding.
The policy was first enacted during the presidency of Ronald Reagan and has been undone during each subsequent Democratic presidency and reinstated by Republican administrations. But the Trump administration did more than merely put the policy back in place after President Barack Obama left office.
Until the Trump administration, the Mexico City policy applied only to family-planning funds distributed to overseas-aid programs by the State Department and USAID, amounting to roughly $600 million. Under President Trump, the policy was expanded to apply to all foreign-health assistance provided by U.S. government agencies, including the State Department, the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, and the Defense Department. As a result of this decision, nearly $9 billion in federal aid money is now covered by the policy.
In his speech on Tuesday afternoon at the U.N. General Assembly, Trump himself addressed his administration’s desire to disentangle the U.S. from promoting abortion overseas. “We are aware that many United Nations projects have attempted to assert a global right to taxpayer-funded abortion on demand, right up until the moment of delivery,” Trump said. “Global bureaucrats have absolutely no business attacking the sovereignty of nations that wish to protect innocent life.”
This effort by the U.S. to stop abortion-rights supporters from sneaking abortion-related language into documents under euphemistic labels has been lamented as an attempt to roll back “women’s rights” and “sexual and reproductive rights.”
In the joint statement, Azar noted that the U.S. and the other 18 member countries “support equal access to health care, which includes, but is not limited to, reproductive concerns, maternal health, voluntary and informed family planning, HIV, elimination of violence against women and girls, and empowerment to reach the highest standard of health.”
This disparity between the Trump administration’s language and the interpretation of its critics reveals precisely why pro-life U.S. officials have asked for an end to the ambiguity. Do the U.N.’s efforts to protect and expand reproductive health care apply to actual health care, or to abortion — which, rather than caring for the health of pregnant women, ends the life of a distinct human being inside his or her mother.