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Trump officials want to bring their backward ideas on women's health to the UN

At the United Nations this week, the Trump team shopped a letter asking other countries to agree to the administration’s regressive health policies.

By Lisa Needham - September 24, 2019
Alex Azar

Not content to restrict the rights of women here at home, the Trump team has been approaching other countries to get them to sign on to this administration’s backward views as to women’s health.

The Guardian reported on a leaked letter signed by both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar that was written to several United Nations member states they believe are sympathetic to this administration’s retrograde views on reproductive health issues. As the Guardian put it, this is what seems to be “the latest attempt by the Trump administration to roll back women’s rights.”

This letter was intended to be presented at Monday’s U.N. meeting on universal health coverage, though the meeting website makes no mention of the administration’s efforts. It’s an odd fit for the meeting, given that the goal of the session was to “mobilize the global community and secure political commitment from Heads of State and Government to accelerate progress toward achieving universal health coverage by 2030.”

Only in Trumpland could that lofty goal be read to mean trying to strip basic reproductive health care rights away from millions.

Pompeo and Azar’s letter complains of references to “sexual and reproductive health and rights” in multilateral global health policy documents. It alleges that such language is actually “pressuring countries to abandon religious principles and cultural norms enshrined in law that protect unborn life.”

When called out about the letter, an HHS spokesperson issued a statement characterizing it as an effort to “[work] with other nations on these shared health priorities [that] will increase access to vital healthcare and advance optimal health outcomes for women, children, and adolescents — often the most vulnerable groups.”

There’s no metric by which the Trump administration’s preferred policies advance health outcomes for women, children, or adolescents. For example, this administration radically expanded the global gag rule. Now, any organization, anywhere in the world that provides counseling, referrals, services, or even simply advocates for abortion with their own funding, is barred from receiving any health funding from the U.S. government. It doesn’t just block those organizations from receiving funds for women’s health or family planning, it means those organizations won’t receive funding to cover critical things like prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

And because the administration’s policies deny people adequate reproductive health care, it leads to an increase in unwanted pregnancies, with and a corresponding uptick in the number of abortions. One study estimated that the administration’s policies actually increase the number of people seeking abortions by as much as 40%.

A drastic reduction in the ability of organizations to fight deadly diseases and prevent unwanted pregnancies is hardly a way to “increase access to vital healthcare and advance optimal health outcomes for women, children, and adolescents” — but this administration doesn’t care. What they really care about is imposing a narrow evangelical worldview on everyone else, and they’re hoping to use U.N. meetings to do it.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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