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By Stefano Gennarini, Director of Legal Studies, Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam), June 12, 2018
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has built a reputation as a woman of principle, willing to take a stand even when it is unpopular. She has taken a stand on Israel and Syria. She’s stood firm on Iran and North Korea. And she’s held tough on the Ukraine and Venezuela. Now, the pro-life movement needs her to show the same resolve against a “humanitarian” right to abortion.
A cadre of abortion groups, European diplomats, and UN bureaucrats want to create an international right to abortion. Since they cannot do it openly, they use bureaucratic subterfuge and diplomatic sleight of hand. The Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam), the organization I work for, has documented and exposed these schemes for over two decades.
Their latest ploy involves including abortion as a “basic humanitarian necessity” in UN agreements on humanitarian assistance. They are using the euphemism “sexual and reproductive health.” And they want UN member states to endorse an initiative of abortion groups and UN agencies called the “minimum initial service package for sexual and reproductive health in emergencies,” or MISP. This package of policies includes abortion explicitly and is designed as a challenge to the Helms amendment which bans U.S. funding for abortion overseas.
Dark, Hidden Dealings on Abortion
Behind closed doors, diplomats and abortion advocates have tried to make this a discussion about rape. They know that Ambassador Haley and others in the Trump administration have in the past expressed support for permitting abortion in cases of rape and want to exploit this. But the focus on the hard cases is a distraction from the real issue.
What is at stake? First, the gradual development of a “humanitarian right to abortion.” Second, U.S. sovereign prerogatives to block U.S. funding of abortion through the Helms amendment. For forty years the Helms amendment has been interpreted as a complete ban on U.S. funding for abortion by both the U.S. government and humanitarian groups.
What is at stake? First, the gradual development of a humanitarian right to abortion. Second, U.S. sovereign prerogatives to block U.S. funding of abortion through the Helms amendment.
Some lawyers and diplomats in the State Department are playing into the hands of abortion advocates by reinterpreting Helms as only a ban on abortion “as family planning.” This allows funding for abortion as a humanitarian need and leaves the door open for the development of a humanitarian right to abortion.
The notion of a humanitarian right to abortion turns the Helms amendment into a violation of humanitarian law. It takes the issue of abortion entirely out of the hands of the American people, regardless of what the Supreme Court might decide in the future. It is a direct attack on U.S. sovereign prerogatives. While the U.S. cannot stop other donors from funding abortion, it should still seek to preserve the right of the American people to not fund abortion and legislate on abortion as they see fit.
Like most bureaucratic abortion schemes, this is all happening in the dark. Some deep state U.S. State Department bureaucrats are quietly working in unison with their European counterparts, UN bureaucrats, and abortion groups. The U.S. Government has been accused of violating humanitarian law by no less than the European Parliament. We have also been denounced by European delegations at the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva for refusing to fund abortion in humanitarian settings.
The U.S. Must Not Cave
The annual humanitarian resolution, now in the final stages of negotiations, must not include any endorsement of the MISP. If “sexual and reproductive health” is to be included in the agreement, it should only be accepted if there are adequate caveats. Such caveats would rule out a humanitarian right to abortion. They would ensure women and their children, both born and in utero, have access to the best possible health care. They would ensure they are protected from the predatory abortion industry. And they would ensure that faith-based and other pro-life groups are not shut out of the humanitarian aid universe.
The U.S. has asked for these and similar caveats in other UN negotiations on abortion and sexual and reproductive health. It would destroy U.S. credibility to give these up now. In the humanitarian context, the U.S. should be insistent that its concerns be accommodated. The U.S. is the largest single backer of humanitarian endeavors, spending nearly 7 billion dollars each year. Statements after a resolution is adopted would simply not be enough.
It would be no good to claim there is no support for caveats in the humanitarian context. Aside from this not being true, this is an issue on which the U.S. should create support. The U.S. should be canvassing UN missions to get them to support pro-life caveats much like they canvassed to promote LGBT rights during the Obama administration. Nothing less should do.
Abortion should never be a part of humanitarianism in international law. Women deserve better. Ambassador Haley has a chance to make sure they get what they need.
And it is no good to claim that the resolution is non-binding or that the U.S. should not be too concerned about abortion-related terms in UN agreements. This is closing a blind eye to bureaucratic schemes to create abortion rights and undermine U.S. foreign policy. One wonders what the reaction would be if the U.S. Mission to the United Nations used such an approach when discussing a UN resolution on Israel.
But ultimately, this is not just about U.S. sovereign prerogatives. It is about what women need in humanitarian settings. Most women who conceive in tragic circumstances even in humanitarian settings do not abort. They need health care, not abortion. If we accept the premise that abortion is a humanitarian necessity or that abortion should be a default response to rape, women will be under pressure to abort their children for a host of factors. Those will include the higher expense of humanitarian efforts to care for a mother and child throughout pregnancy and afterwards.
Humanitarianism is a delicate and revered area of international law. Abortion should never be a part of it. Women deserve better than abortion. Ambassador Haley has a chance to make sure they get what they need.
Stefano Gennarini is the Director of Legal Studies at the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam) in New York. He tweets as @prolifeadvocate. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of C-Fam.