NEW YORK, November 5, 2019 (C-Fam) — For the second year in a row, the U.S. kept abortion-related language out of a UN Security Council resolution on women in crisis and conflict. It is a victory for the Trump administration, which has been pushing to eliminate the phrase “sexual and reproductive health” from UN documents. It is a blow to Europeans who insist that abortion be funded as humanitarian aid.
The U.S. had wanted to go further and eliminate from the resolution any reference to other documents that mention the term. U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN Kelly Craft said after the unanimous vote to adopt the resolution, “We cannot accept references to 'sexual and reproductive health,' nor any references to 'safe termination of pregnancy' or language that would promote abortion or suggest a right to abortion.”
Under the Obama administration, references to “sexual and reproductive health” appeared in two versions of the recurring resolution on Women Peace and Security, promoted by France and other European nations and supported by UN Women and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. This week, the Trump administration was willing to break with the typical practice of reaffirming all previous iterations of the resolution in order to avoid reference to them.
This is the second time in recent months that the Europeans were defeated in attempts to include abortion in the Women Peace and Security agenda. They were stopped in April when the U.S. threatened to veto the last iteration of the resolution.
The US position has changed abortion politics at the UN. The term “sexual and reproductive health” was allowed to proliferate as long as it could be kept ambiguous: pro-life, mostly developing, countries could claim it did not include abortion while still accepting reproductive health funding from donor nations.
The diplomatic bargain of deliberate ambiguity, worked out in the halls of UN negotiating rooms, is not enforced on the ground. Donors, mostly Europeans, who define the term as including abortion, include it in foreign aid. UN agencies and implementing partners use the ambiguity to include abortion even where it is restricted, and to advocate for further liberalization as a matter of rights, though it is not in any UN agency's official mandate or any UN human rights treaty.
Reflective of this tactic, a spokesperson for the abortion litigation firm, Center for Reproductive Rights, told reporters this week that the term is about premature labor, low birthweight, and sexually transmitted diseases, and called the U.S. position of debating the term “arcane.” The U.S. State Department removed the term from its annual human rights report citing such double speak.
The Security Council debate shows the US is willing to push back at the accusations of its allies. European nations, including America's close allies, Britain and France, accuse the U.S. of violating the Geneva Conventions. They referred to the Helms Amendment to U.S. foreign aid law, which forbids funding abortion. In fact, there is no such provision in the laws of war, and it does not control application of domestic law.
Published with permission from C-Fam.