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US signs international declaration challenging women's right to abortion and 'defend the unborn'

The multinational coalition repeatedly denied women's intrinsic right to an abortion under the guise of defending national sovereignty, human dignity, and the unborn.

US signs international declaration challenging women's right to abortion and 'defend the unborn'
Cover Image Source: Getty Images/ US President Donald Trump, Alex Azar, and Mike Pompeo at the Cabinet Room of the White House on October 21, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong)

Last week, the Trump administration joined 32 illiberal or authoritarian countries in declaring that "there is no international right to an abortion." During a virtual signing ceremony of the Geneva Consensus Declaration on Promoting Women's Health and Strengthening the Family in Washington DC on Thursday, the multinational coalition repeatedly denied women's intrinsic right to an abortion under the guise of defending national sovereignty, human dignity, and the unborn. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar participated in the ceremony and strongly rebuked United Nations human rights bodies that have sought to protect abortion access for putting "a myopic focus on a radical agenda that is offensive to many cultures and derails agreement of women’s health priorities."

 



 

According to Independent, the Geneva Consensus Declaration was co-sponsored by Brazil, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Uganda, and the US while a host of autocratic countries including Saudi Arabia, Belarus, and the United Arab Emirates joined as signatories. The document — which received no support from America's liberal allies — states that "in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning" while reaffirming "that the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state, that motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance, that women play a critical role in the family and women’s contribution to the welfare of the family and to the development of society."

 



 

 

Ten of the 20 worst countries in the world to be a woman — as determined by Georgetown University's Women, Peace, and Security Index  — signed the declaration while none of the top 20, with the exception of the United States of America, joined the coalition. "For the last four years, women have faced continuous attacks on their reproductive freedom, with the withdrawal of funding and the emboldening of corrosive anti-choice groups," Sarah Shaw, head of advocacy for Marie Stopes International, which provides safe abortion to women in dozens of countries.

 



 

"It is extremely alarming and disappointing to see this complete disregard for human rights which undermines international consensus around reproductive health and rights," Shaw added. "Ultimately, this will impact the most vulnerable and marginalized women and girls the most, denying them access to life-saving family planning and comprehensive abortion care." As The Washington Post points out, while the declaration is not legally binding and does not change any existing laws, it reflects the Trump administration's relentless efforts against reproductive rights and pattern of bypassing traditional avenues of diplomacy to build parallel tracks.

 



 

 

The Geneva Consensus Declaration is reportedly part of the evangelical Christian secretary of state's attempts to push a socially conservative foreign policy agenda during his time in office. Appointed by the president in 2018, last month Pompeo attempted to use a US-sponsored UN event to redefine international human rights and prioritize "religious freedom" over LGBTQ+ equality. These sentiments are manifested in the consensus as well, which while never directly addresses same-sex marriage, promotes the "harmonious partnership" between men and women and asserts that women "play a critical role in the family."

 



 

 

The text's language has a clear meaning for countries that restrict LGBTQ+ rights including Egypt — where the government targets LGBT people in a "systematic fashion" — and Uganda, where gay sex is punishable by death. "This will undoubtedly bring harm to LGBTQ people and roll back the established global consensus about the necessity of protecting the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls in all their diversity," David Stacy, government affairs director of the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, said of the declaration. 

 



 

 

Josh Bradlow, policy manager at Stonewall, warned that "the swing towards extreme politics and anti-diversity rhetoric that’s been gaining momentum worldwide has strengthened hostility against marginalized groups, including LGBT people and women." He also stressed the need to "be vigilant to prevent rights being rolled back across the globe. Now, more than ever we need to remember the power that comes when we stand together, and fight for equality of people of all backgrounds."

 



 

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