Trump Administration Rejects UN Human Rights Council’s ‘Safe Abortion’ Text

By Patrick Goodenough | June 23, 2017 | 4:23am EDT
The United Nations Human Rights Council meets in Geneva. (UN Photo, File)

( – What a difference a year makes. Last summer, the Obama administration not only supported a text at the U.N. Human Rights Council that included a call for access to “safe abortion where such services are permitted by national law” but also co-sponsored it, despite not then being a member of the Geneva-based body.

On Thursday, when this year’s version of the resolution came around for a vote again, the Trump administration rejected the abortion reference, reminding the HRC that key international documents drawn up in the 1990s did not create a “right” to abortion.

The broader resolution, dealing with eliminating violence against women, was adopted without a vote, but not before Jason Mack, a member of the United States' U.N. contingent, distanced the U.S. from the paragraph containing the abortion reference.

The section in question includes “safe abortion where such services are permitted by national law” among a list of “quality comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care services” which countries’ health services should provide.

Mack explained that the U.S. supported the “spirit” of the broader text, and that it “joins other members of this council in condemning all acts of violence against women and girls.”

“However, we must dissociate from the consensus on operational paragraph 9(d),” he continued.

“We do not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance.”

After taking office, President Trump reinstated a Reagan-era policy that prohibits federal funding for organizations that promote or perform abortions abroad. Last month Secretary of State Rex Tillerson approved a significant expansion of that “Mexico City policy,” which now applies not just to funds for family planning programs but to all U.S. foreign health assistance.

Mack said the U.S. believes that women should have equal access to reproductive health care, and pointed out that the U.S. remains the world’s number one bilateral donor of reproductive health and family planning assistance.

The “Accelerating efforts to eliminate violence against women” resolution adopted by the HRC on Thursday invoked key international documents that came out of the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994, and the 1995 Beijing world conference on women a year later.

Mack said the U.S. remains committed to the commitments contained in those texts, but stressed that it has long been made clear there is international consensus that they do not create a “right” to abortion.

‘Insert[ing] abortion rights language into every conceivable U.N. document’

After the Beijing conference delivered its “platform for action,” some advocacy groups took to interpreting terms in the document such as “reproductive rights” and “reproductive health services” as including a global right to an abortion.

Citing the Beijing document, some non-governmental organizations sought to put pressure on governments, especially in the developing world, to amend their abortion laws.

That question has roiled U.N. events in more than one occasion, including in 2005, when the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) met in New York to review progress made over the decade since Beijing.


The Bush administration held up proceedings over the issue, proposing an amendment to a draft political statement to make it clear the Beijing platform for action did not create a right to abortion.

Lobbying and debate continued for several days, before the administration withdrew the amendment, but only after it had been made clear there was consensus that the terms in question – in the words of the U.S. delegation head – “do not include abortion or constitute support, endorsement, or promotion of abortion or the use of abortifacients.”

The U.S. said it had accomplished its goal and pro-life groups, which had drawn hundreds of thousands of messages of support from around the world for the U.S. stance, also declared a win.

Pro-lifers welcomed Thursday’s development:

The Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Global Outreach group, an international NGO, said it fully supported and was encouraged by the administration’s decision to oppose abortion as a legitimate “treatment” for women.

“Advocates of abortion on demand have worked for many years to insert abortion rights language into every conceivable U.N. document, treaty and statement, regardless of whether those instruments address the care of unborn children and their mothers,” the group said in a statement.

When last year’s version of the “Accelerating efforts to eliminate violence against women” resolution came up before the HRC, the U.S. was not a member, since it was taking an obligatory one-year break following two consecutive terms. (It won a new three-year term last October, beginning in January 2017.)

Despite not being a member of the 47-seat council, the Obama administration joined other mostly Western and Latin American countries in co-sponsoring the text.

On that occasion it was left to Paraguay to raise concerns about the abortion reference.

Its delegate argued that the HRC could not condemn the death penalty but then with the same voice support an action – abortion – that results in the disappearance of a human life.

The Obama administration was an enthusiastic participant of the HRC, even while acknowledging its flaws. Its successor by contrast has signaled that it is reviewing its participation, highlighting some of those same flaws, primarily a systemic anti-Israel bias and the fact some members of the U.N.’s top human rights body are themselves right abusers.

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