Trump Administration Asks the U.N. to Remove Abortion from Its Coronavirus Plan

United Nations headquarters in New York City (Mike Segar/Reuters)
In a letter, the USAID administrator requested that the U.N. stop using the global pandemic to push abortion as an ‘essential service.’

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE T he acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has written to the United Nations, asking the organization to remove “reproductive health” and support for abortion from its humanitarian plan responding to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“The delivery of essential health care is the first priority around the globe during this time. In addition, severe food shortages could represent a second, deadly impact of the pandemic in many countries,” acting administrator John Barsa wrote, noting that the U.N. “must remain focused on addressing the most urgent, concrete needs that are arising out of the pandemic.”

“Therefore, the U.N. should not use this crisis as an opportunity to advance access to abortion as an ‘essential service,’” Barsa added. “Unfortunately, the Global HRP [Humanitarian Response Plan] does just this, by cynically placing the provision of ‘sexual and reproductive health services’ on the same level of importance as food-insecurity, essential health care, malnutrition, shelter, and sanitation.”

Barsa points out that the U.N.’s plan explicitly calls for the increased distribution of “abortion-inducing drugs and abortion supplies,” as well as for individual countries to promote elective abortion as part of the response to COVID-19 outbreaks.

The letter echoes the theme of President Donald Trump’s remarks at the U.N. General Assembly last fall, where he emphasized that his administration aims to disentangle the U.S. from promoting abortion overseas, which the U.N. does routinely. “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.”

Barsa’s letter is also in line with a joint statement that the U.S. presented at last year’s General Assembly on behalf of itself and 18 other member countries, insisting that there exists no “international right” to abortion and asking the U.N. to cease using euphemistic terms such as “sexual and reproductive health and rights” in its official documents and proposals.

“There is no international right to an abortion,” Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said in remarks at the assembly, “and these terms should not be used to promote pro-abortion policies and measures.” Azar said that these ambiguous terms allow for misinterpretation in the implementation of policy, which lends the U.N.’s imprimatur to expansions of abortion on demand.

Azar also acknowledged in his speech “the sovereign right of nations to implement health policies,” pointing out that the U.N.’s insistence on promoting abortion is in conflict with the pro-life practices of many nations. Barsa’s letter makes a similar point: “Indeed, the U.N. should not intimidate or coerce member states that are committed to the right to life. To use the COVID-19 pandemic as a justification to pressure governments to change their laws is an affront to the autonomy of each society to determine its own national policies on health care.”

In just one example of this problem, pro-life groups in Ecuador have recently orchestrated protests because the U.N. humanitarian-response plan conflicts with the country’s abortion policy. Abortion is illegal in Ecuador, except in cases where a woman’s life is at risk, but because the U.N. plan requires countries to implement a program training health-care personnel to promote “access to contraception including emergency contraception, safe legal abortion and post-abortion care,” pro-lifers fear that the country will be forced either to adopt these policies or to forgo U.N. aid.

“To achieve global unity . . . it is essential that the UN’s response to the pandemic avoid creating controversy,” Barsa’s letter continues. “Therefore, I ask that you remove references to ‘sexual and reproductive health,’ and its derivatives from the Global HRP, and drop the provision of abortion as an essential component of the UN’s priorities to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic . . . [which is] among the most polarizing issues raised in UN negotiations.”

Though some news outlets have covered this letter as if Barsa’s request is merely an effort to “avoid creating controversy,” the aim of his missive and of the Trump administration more broadly is obvious and understandable. Abortion is perhaps the most highly debated issue both in the U.S. and when it comes to global aid, and it would be a mistake for the U.N. to continue imposing its progressive view of the question on countries that insist on protecting unborn human life.

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