The Trump administration signed onto a declaration on Thursday that could undermine abortion rights around the world, a document stating that “in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning.”
The declaration is part of the Geneva Consensus, a 32-country coalition created by the Trump administration in 2019 and co-sponsored by Brazil, Indonesia, Hungary, Uganda and Egypt. The coalition’s declaration pushes more conservative views on human rights than the United Nations, including reproductive rights and often with a right-leaning bent on women’s health and family.
Although the declaration is not legally binding, the Trump administration’s facilitation of the coalition ― and break from UN consensus ― sends a loud and clear message where the U.S. stands on abortion rights.
At a virtual ceremonial signing of the declaration on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that under President Donald Trump’s leadership, “The United States has defended the dignity of human life everywhere and always… We’ve mounted an unprecedented defense of the unborn abroad.”
“At its very core, the declaration protects women’s health, defends the unborn, and reiterates the vital importance of the family as the foundation of society,” Pompeo said.
The declaration claims to “support women, protect life [and] promote the family,” according to a video shown at Thursday’s signing ceremony. In reality, it seeks to restrict abortion access and undermine same-sex marriages by reaffirming the traditional, heterosexual family unit. Many of the countries that have signed on to the declaration are socially conservative and have been accused by the UN of human rights violations.
The declaration states that “there is no international right to abortion” because countries have no obligation to “finance or facilitate abortion.” The joint statement also undermines same-sex couples by reaffirming traditional family roles. “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State,” the document reads, adding that “women play a critical role in the family.”
The declaration stands in stark contrast to the UN Human Rights Commission’s stance on abortion, which promotes safe and affordable access to sexual and reproductive health care that includes abortion. Key U.S. allies like the UK and France support abortion rights.
This declaration is a farce ― it carries no legitimacy within the UN system ― but the sentiments it represents are dangerous nonetheless.
Jenny Vanyur, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
“This declaration is a farce ― it carries no legitimacy within the UN system ― but the sentiments it represents are dangerous nonetheless,” said Jenny Vanyur, associate director of Global Advocacy for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “In contrast to what this declaration states, there is broad international consensus on the critical need for access to sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion.”
The declaration is in line with the Trump administration’s past comments on abortion and sexual health.
“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 during a 2019 UN General Assembly speech, falsely claiming that abortions can and are being done right before birth.
“Global bureaucrats have absolutely no business attacking the sovereignty of nations that wish to protect innocent life,” Trump continued. “Like many nations here today, we in America believe that every child, born and unborn, is a sacred gift from God.”
Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar claimed at Thursday’s signing event that “with increasing frequency, some rich nations and UN agencies beholden to them are wrongly asserting abortion as a universal human right.” He said women around the globe “unnecessarily suffer health challenges, all too often deadly health challenges, while too many wealthy nations and international institutions put a myopic focus on a radical agenda that is offensive to many cultures.”
In reality, the Trump administration’s support for and expansion of the global gag rule has put women and families around the world at risk by cutting off more than $150 million in funding for medical charities. The gag rule is a policy tying U.S. aid to a promise from recipients not to perform or promote abortion. For some of the world’s poorest communities, sexual health organizations are essential for more than family planning services and, in some areas, provide the only affordable medical care.
Jonathan Rucks, senior director of policy and advocacy at PAI, an international group that promotes reproductive health care, warned that the new declaration is an attempt from the Trump administration to undermine UN consensus that abortion is an essential service.
“This is the U.S. trying to normalize and legitimize a narrow perspective on human rights and health that is not in line with longstanding international agreements recognizing human rights, including reproductive rights,” Rucks said. “Having failed at gaining ‘consensus’ around their position in existing multilateral fora, the signers of this declaration, many of whom have questionable records on human rights, are creating an alternate reality where they define their own definitions and continue to stigmatize abortion.”