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 Brad via Flickr

March 26, 2018 (C-Fam) – The elation of the commission was palpable as UN delegates applauded the Colombian who steered negotiations for an agreement on policies for women and girls in rural areas to their successful conclusion on Friday.

“I am too tired,” he said panting, as he caught his breath to tell the UN Commission on the Status of Women of the successful conclusions of the negotiations.

His exhaustion was audible as he spoke in a raucous breathless voice. He held back tears as his body shook with emotion and he waved from the floor of the UN meeting room, acknowledging the grateful applause of the commission as congratulatory diplomatic remarks replaced the vicious backbiting and maneuvering that led to the agreement.

And the pressure to deliver an agreement was greater than ever at this year's commission, given that the last time the commission tackled rural women in 2012 negotiations broke down and there was no agreement.

Not only was there an agreement this year. The text adopted by the commission was negotiated and agreed line-by-line, without the chair having to produce a compromise text because of a break-down in negotiations – a common occurrence in recent years. But consensus came at a cost.

The agreement does not make any new political commitments on abortion or LGBT rights. It did not include the notion of “safe abortion.” Nor does it recognize the concept of family diversity, as asked insistently by nations that allow homosexual marriage. Phrases like “sexual orientation and gender identity” and “women in all their diversity” were also kept out of the agreement.

Neither does the agreement reverse many of the gains of abortion groups in recent years. The document, like the agreement the commission adopted last year, continues to call on states to provide sexual and reproductive health, a term coined by abortion groups as a euphemism for abortion, albeit by reference to a 1994 UN agreement that rules out abortion rights, and with less emphasis than agreements in recent years.

The Holy See, as well as several Islamic countries repeated their reservations on this terminology, excluding the notion of abortion and other controversial issues from their understanding of this term.

The stalemate on the agreement was all the more surprising given how the facilitator was expected to take a hard line in negotiations because of pressure from Latin American and European nations disappointed with last year's results. Perhaps his greatest merit was to have shown restraint as the negotiations drew to close Friday morning.

And no one is under the illusion the restraint he showed was not the result of the Trump administration that sent a delegate from Washington D.C. to take pro-life positions in negotiations and ask for deletion of “sexual and reproductive health” repeatedly. This had a snowball effect, with delegations feeling more and more emboldened to oppose these long-contested terms.

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Abortion groups are understandably furious and, along with homosexual groups, unleashed their fury on the delegate, Bethany Kozma, senior advisor on women's issues from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Two U.S. diplomats anonymously attacked Kozma in an article in the Irish newspaper, The Independent. They leaked information about the negotiations and described the position taken by the Trump administration as more pro-life than the Holy See's.

The article included comments from lawyers of the Global Justice Center, presided by longtime abortion power player Janet Benshoof, who also founded the Center for Reproductive Rights and directed the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project. Additionally, a UN based LGBT group by the name of OutRight International that denigrated the Trump political appointee as “anti-trans and pro-life” was cited by the Irish paper.

Evidently, abortion groups felt the gains they made under the Obama administration were under real threat. And their pressure got to some of the U.S. diplomats in the negotiations. Insiders told the Friday Fax the tension in the U.S. delegation was palpable, with Kozma frequently revising and correcting the positions of the U.S. negotiators when they were not sufficiently pro-life or in defense of sovereignty.

An African delegate told the Friday Fax the perception among Europeans and Latin Americans is now that Americans are “hardliners.”

An Arab delegate said it was “scary” when the U.S. was asking for deletion of “sexual and reproductive health” during the negotiations, alluding to the growing tension in the negotiations over whether to keep abortion related language or not.

As negotiations wound down Thursday, and despite leaks to the press and pressure from the LGBT groups, the U.S. maintained its position on deleting “sexual and reproductive health,” only relenting on Friday morning, when the deadline for the agreement's adoption was set.

A pro-life delegate from a country that protects the lives of unborn children told the Friday Fax they were disappointed at the final surrender. “We expected a bit more pressure from them on our red lines, but I guess we will have to wait,” she said referring to sexual and reproductive health. She was also quick to add, “I think everyone was clear of their new position,” referring to the break from the Obama administration who supported abortion related language in UN agreements. She was hopeful that this will lead to other nations with laws protective of the unborn to challenge abortion related terms in UN agreements.

Several delegates said they were disappointed by the weak support of U.S. diplomats for language that asserts state sovereignty and prerogatives.

He described the U.S. position as “softly vocal about it, but not firm as we expected,” alluding to President Trump's strong assurances of respect for sovereignty in his address to the United Nations last September, where he mentioned sovereignty an unprecedented 21 times.

The administration may take an even stronger approach with the appointments of Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, and Ambassador John Bolton as National Security Advisor. Both are social conservatives and support defending sovereignty in international organizations.

Ambassador Haley's office has so far been silent about the attacks on Bethany Kozma and the unauthorized leaks attacking her in the Irish press.

 Published with permission from C-Fam.