US Pushes Back Against ‘Reproductive Rights’ Language in UN Texts

By Patrick Goodenough | December 18, 2018 | 4:44am EST
The U.N. General Assembly on Monday, December 17, 2018 overwhelmingly voted to throw out U.S. attempts to amend resolutions’ references to terms such as ‘reproductive rights.’ (Screen capture: U.N. Webcast)

( – The United States waged a lonely struggle at the United Nations on Monday as it opposed language that some advocacy groups have used to promote abortion – and even a global “right” to abortion.

The U.S. attempted, without success, to remove references to “reproductive rights” and “reproductive health services” in two resolutions – one relating to child, early and forced marriage, and the other to preventing sexual harassment of women and girls.

The votes went overwhelmingly against the U.S., which stood alone in one (131-1, with 31 abstentions) and was supported by only Nauru in the other (134-2, with 32 abstentions).

Republican administrations have often challenged language in U.N. documents interpreted by some advocacy groups to include a ‘right’ to abortion. (Image: UNGA/

After the amendment to delete four paragraphs from the text on child, early and forced marriage failed, U.S. delegate Sofija Korac explained the administration’s stance, voicing U.S. “concerns about wording that exceeds prior international consensus on issues related to reproductive health care.”

The United States believes that women should have equal access to reproductive health care,” she said, adding that the U.S. continues to support commitments laid out in key documents that came out of the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994, and the 1995 Beijing world conference on women.

“As has been made clear over many years, there was international consensus that these documents do not create new international rights, including any ‘right’ to abortion,” Korac said.

While the U.S. supports “the principle of voluntary choice regarding maternal and child health and family planning,” she said, it does “not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance.”

Soon after his inauguration President Trump reinstated a Reagan-era policy prohibiting federal funding for organizations promoting or performing abortions abroad.

That “Mexico City policy” was subsequently strengthened, to cover all U.S. foreign health assistance, not only funding for family planning programs as had been the case earlier.

Korac reminded the U.N. on Monday that the U.S. remains the largest bilateral donor of reproductive health and family planning assistance.

Since the 1994 and 1995 U.N. conference documents referred to by the U.S. delegate, pro-abortion advocacy groups have frequency asserted that the term “reproductive rights” includes abortion.

Some NGOs, citing those documents, have sought to pressurize governments to annul or amend their abortion laws. At the same time they, and supportive governments, have accused Republican administrations in Washington of trying to “roll back women’s rights” by opposing the vague terms in U.N. documents.

In its annual country reports on human rights for the year 2017, the State Department earlier this year removed subsections on “reproductive rights” for each country assessed, which had been inserted by the Obama State Department.

Instead the department reverted to the requirement – in legislation dating back to 1961 – for the annual report to “include information on practices regarding coercion in population control, including coerced abortion and involuntary sterilization.”

Accusing the State Department of having “omitted vital information on reproductive rights” from the report, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking records relating to the decision.

When the CRR filed a second FOIA lawsuit earlier this month, its foreign policy counsel Stephanie Schmid said it would continue to hold the administration accountable, to ensure that U.S. foreign policy “promotes, rather than hinders, women and girls’ access to basic health care like contraception, safe abortion, and maternal health care in order for them to achieve economic, social, and political empowerment.”

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