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December 7, 2018 (C-Fam) – Trump administration pro-life diplomacy has led to a series of unprecedented votes in UN committees to exclude abortion from UN policy, but to roll back advances achieved during the Obama administration, a stronger political will is needed.

U.S. diplomats introduced, withdrew, and then reintroduced a volley of amendments from the floor of the third committee to either qualify or delete the term “sexual and reproductive health” in several UN resolutions on women and children, a term that has become ubiquitous in UN agreements in recent years.

Predictably, the U.S. amendments were all defeated, though a maximum of 44 countries did support one of the five U.S. amendments presented on the problematic term.

The unprecedented votes showed just how much “sexual and reproductive health” remains contested, despite efforts to make the term ubiquitous. It demonstrates that the U.S. is not isolated in its pro-life position despite European efforts to make it appear so.

While the U.S. took deliberate steps throughout negotiations to remove the anti-life language, they stopped well short of what pro-life Member States wanted and what pro-life organizations asked President Trump to do in a letter addressed to him prior to the commencement of the General Assembly.

Delegates sympathetic to the U.S. position against abortion had hoped the U.S. would take more drastic action, including calling for a vote on contested resolutions, but the U.S. never did.

Many delegations found the lack of resolve by the U.S. confusing, indicating that the life issue was second to other U.S. priorities. Blocking abortion-related terms in UN policy did not rise to the same level as opposition to “collective rights” – a term included in the rights of the peasants resolution, which caused the U.S. to vote against the entire resolution.

Despite two years of opposition to abortion-related terms in international policy, the Trump administration has not been able to roll back these terms in UN resolutions as in other contexts, such as in the G20, G7, World Health Assembly and at PAHO.

At last year's General Assembly, the U.S. failed to engage on the controversial term largely due to Trump administration political appointees not yet in place.

By Spring, this personnel change led to U.S. diplomats actively opposing “sexual and reproductive health” in negotiations. And, recent reported leaks from the State Department of a new strategy to contest the controversial term lead Member States to believe an inevitable showdown would occur during this General Assembly.

European, Nordic and many Latin American countries are responsible for the proliferation of abortion and sexual rights language in UN resolutions. And, during the Obama administration, this language had the support of the United States.

Future votes on the controversial phrase could find increased Member State support if the U.S. takes steps to communicate its pro-life position to capitals. Delegates longing to support the U.S. position told the Friday Fax the only instructions received from the U.S. State Department was on traditional U.S. foreign policy priorities. In contrast, European countries sent communications to capitals and called UN ambassadors asking for continued support of sexual and reproductive health language.

Published with permission from C-Fam.