United States Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar led a group of 19 nations in asking the United Nations this week to remove pro-abortion language from U.N. documents while President Donald Trump separately blasted its promotion of abortion.
Azar spoke before the U.N. General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage in New York City Monday on behalf of the U.S. and other countries that signed onto a recent statement expressing concern that the U.N. is undermining the role of the family.
The summit was held to discuss issues of climate control and healthcare.
“We do not support references to ambiguous terms and expressions, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights in U.N. documents, because they can undermine the critical role of the family and promote practices, like abortion, in circumstances that do not enjoy international consensus and which can be misinterpreted by U.N. agencies,” Azar said.
Azar said that terms like “sexual and reproductive health” don’t take into account “the key role of the family in health and education, nor the sovereign right of nations to implement health policies according to their national context.”
“There is no international right to an abortion and these terms should not be used to promote pro-abortion policies and measures,” Azar continued. “Further, we only support sex education that appreciates the protective role of the family in this education and does not condone harmful sexual risks for young people.”
Azar requested that U.N. agencies focus on efforts “that enjoy broad consensus among member states.”
“To that end, only documents that have been adopted by all member states should be cited in U.N. resolutions,” Azar added.
While making his statement, Azar was joined by representatives from Brazil, Poland and Iraq.
In July, Azar, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent a joint letter asking international political leaders to join them in signing a statement to be presented at the U.N. General Assembly.
Others who signed onto the statement Azar read aloud at the U.N. headquarters include leaders from Bahrain, Belarus, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Guatemala, Haiti, Hungary, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
“Efforts to advance such harmful policies in multilateral settings where global health policy is debated and set, like the United Nations and affiliated bodies such as the World Health Organization, are disturbing and must be challenged,” the letter from Pompeo and Azar to world leaders contends.
“They take the focus off real health issues and import policy debates that should be handled at the national, sub-national, or community level. Furthermore, we are disappointed that the tone of these debates is increasingly divisive, diminishing the focus on shared global health priorities.”
On Monday, the General Assembly adopted an 11-page declaration on universal health coverage that, among other things, calls for “universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights” by 2030.
On Tuesday, Trump used his speech before the U.N. General Assembly to send his own message against the global promotion of abortion.
“We are aware that many United Nations projects have attempted to assert a global right to taxpayer-funded abortion on demand, right up until the moment of delivery,” Trump said. “Global bureaucrats have absolutely no business attacking the sovereignty of nations that wish to protect innocent life.”
“Like many nations here today we in America believe that every child born and unborn is a sacred gift from God,” Trump added.
Trump drew praise from conservative and pro-life organizations for using his platform at the U.N. to voice a pro-life message while he and his administration received criticism from proponents of abortion rights.
“The Trump administration’s strong pro-life leadership on the world stage is no secret,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life lobbying organization Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement.
“From day one, President Trump has worked to restore respect for life as a foundational American value not only in our domestic policies but in our international relations as well. Secretaries Pompeo and Azar have played key roles in advancing the president’s pro-life agenda and deserve credit for their efforts.”
Grace Melton, an associate for social issues at the United Nations with the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, stressed in an op-ed that the term “sexual and reproductive health” is “finding its way into a seemingly infinite number of international declarations, documents, and goals, particularly those pertaining to health or development.”
“Gender equality language is being used to promote abortion in many international contexts,” she wrote. “For example, at the recent G-7 summit, the group’s Gender Equality Advisory Council told assembled leaders that abortion restrictions are impediments to achieving gender equality.”
According to Netherlands Minister of Foreign Trade Sigrid Kaag, 58 countries have signed onto a competing statement in defense of “women’s rights [and] gender equality. She also spoke at the U.N. summit.
“When women have the right to decide about their own bodies they have a more prosperous future,” Kaag tweeted.
Dr. Megan Huchko, an obstetrician-gynecologist and director of the pro-choice Center for Global Reproductive Health at Duke University in North Carolina, told CNN that introducing the idea that “family planning and reproductive health” should not be included in universal health coverage sets a “dangerous precedent.”
"I think that while some could say that this is just a symbolic gesture talking about values, the result is that it actually represents a lot of what the Trump administration has done both globally and domestically on reproductive health and increasing restrictions and defunding,” Huchko argued.
Bradley Mattes, president of the pro-life Life Issues Institute, said in August that abortion rights advocates “are trying to do an end-run around official United Nations agreements by insisting on using ambiguous terms like ‘sexual and reproductive health’ and ‘comprehensive sexuality education.’”
Mattes said that such terms are “code phrases for imposing abortion on demand on countries where unborn babies are protected by law.”