Trump joins international coalition to oppose health care for women

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The administration is joining with countries known for their human rights abuses.

The Trump administration continues to curry favor with antiabortion activists and lawmakers. This time, it's on an international scale. 

The administration just signed onto the Geneva Consensus, which the administration describes as "promoting women's health and strengthening the family." That's not the case. 

The Geneva Consensus is a "consensus" of only six sponsor countries: Brazil, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Uganda, and the United States. What all of those countries have in common is that they are staunchly antiabortion. All but the United States and Brazil ban same-sex marriage. An additional 26 countries are signatories, including Poland, where the country's highest court just banned nearly all abortions. 

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The declaration exists mostly to push back against the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

In 2018, the UN's Human Rights Committee issued a detailed "General Comment on the Right to Life," which said that abortion is a human right. The UN made that statement in the context of a broad interpretation of the right to life, saying that countries should not place restrictions on the right to abortion that jeopardize women's lives, subjects them to physical or mental pain, or interferes with their privacy. 

The comment also stated that countries should not regulate abortions to force people to seek unsafe abortions. Finally, it said that everyone, including minors, should have access to "quality and evidence-based information and education about sexual and reproductive health and to a wide range of affordable contraceptive methods." 

Additionally, the comment called for states to abolish the death penalty, to better care for those who are imprisoned, and to strictly regulate government use of so-called "less lethal" weapons, among other things. The document runs 24 pages, with 281 footnotes citing past comments and the official observations of dozens of countries.

By contrast, the Geneva Consensus is a single page saying that "in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning" and that changes to abortion law can only be determined "according to the national legislative process." 

The agreement commits to enabling women "to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant" yet provides no context as to how that should happen, save for not having an abortion. It praises mothers and children, saying they are "entitled to special care and assistance" but offers no way in which that should occur. It calls for "development gains for women, including sexual and reproductive health," but it must not include abortion. 

It's part of a long-term plan helmed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to create a "pro-life, pro-family, pro-sovereignty coalition that is a force to be reckoned with." The coalition, though, contains countries like Uganda, where the government has threatened to impose the death penalty on gay people. 

The Trump administration has taken other steps to impose a conservative, antiabortion view on the rest of the world. In 2017, the administration expanded the global gag rule, which bars U.S. aid to any foreign organization that provides abortions or discusses abortion services. That doesn't just mean defunding reproductive health organizations. A clinic that used to receive assistance for HIV education or malaria prevention loses all funding under the global gag rule if it merely gives out information about abortion care. 

The global gag rule, far from restricting abortion or increasing health and opportunities for women, has instead resulted in a massive uptick in the number of people seeking abortions — a 40% increase. In part, that's because many of the groups that lost funding under the rule also provided additional reproductive health services, like birth control. 

A 2019 Lancet study looked at several countries where organizations lost funding under the rule. They found a 14% decrease in the use of contraception and a 12% increase in pregnancies. Another Lancet study in 2020 found the global gag rule led to a decreased discussion of sexual and reproductive health rights, reduced access to contraception, increases in unintended pregnancies, and a greater number of unsafe abortions. 

The gag rule also undermines the overall health care structure in affected countries. A review of over 40 studies found that it was "consistently associated with poor impacts on health systems' function and outcomes."

In signing the Geneva Consensus, the administration gave lip service to the idea it would ensure equal opportunities for women and "improve and secure access to health and development gains for women, including sexual and reproductive health." The hardline antiabortion stance that underpins it, however, has already been proven to be very dangerous for women's health. 

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.