In Closed-Door UN Meetings, Trump Administration Officials Pushed Abstinence For International Women’s Health Programs
In closed-door meetings at the United Nations in March, Trump administration officials pushed socially conservative views on women’s rights issues — including abstinence-based policies over information about contraception — that were further to the right than those expressed by most other countries present, including Russia and the representative for the Arab states, UN officials who attended the meetings told BuzzFeed News.
The Trump officials’ approach at the UN meeting makes it clear that the administration intends to extend its views on abortion, contraception, and sexual education beyond US borders to an extent that is unusual even for Republican administrations.
The comments came during the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women, a two-week session described by a spokesperson for the US Mission to the United Nations as the UN’s “most important meeting on women’s empowerment.” The main event is a closed-door negotiation on language to include in an annual UN document that sets global standards and outlines potential policies pertaining to gender equality efforts in all member countries.
Early in this series of meetings, Bethany Kozma — a senior adviser for gender equality and women’s empowerment at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and anti-transgender activist — emphasized that the US was a “pro-life nation,” sparking a strong reaction from delegates in the room, two officials in the room confirmed to BuzzFeed News.
“When she said that there was sort of a record scratch and silence,” one UN official who participated in the negotiations but asked not to be named so as to maintain a working relationship with the other member states present told BuzzFeed News. “Everyone was like, ‘are you kidding me?’”
Shannon Kowalski, the director of the International Women’s Health Coalition, said that the Trump administration’s stances on women’s health presented in the meeting were “further to the right” than they were at last year’s commission, or even under George W. Bush’s administration. While the Bush administration implemented anti-abortion policies abroad, the scope was limited to family planning programs. Trump’s policies already expand beyond those limits.
“They’re far more extreme than the US was under the Bush administration,” Kowalski told BuzzFeed News shortly after the session wrapped up. “We saw placement of ideologues within key roles who took similar positions back then, but they limited what they applied their views to.”
Throughout the two-week session, Trump administration officials discussed shifting international policy on women toward abstinence-oriented education and teaching women sexual “refusal skills.” Those views — as well as the US’s push for more conservative policies on immigration, trade and environmental regulation — ended up uniting most of the 45 CSW member states against the US on family planning issues, six sources who attended or were familiar with meetings told BuzzFeed News.
While negotiations at the UN are often political, two officials familiar with the negotiations said that they had never seen nearly all of the other membership states — many of whom have wildly different stances and priorities on family planning issues — come together against the US. The members include several countries where abortion is illegal and punishable by fines or jail time.
The Trump administration has not been shy about its stance on abortion. On his third day in office, President Donald Trump instated an expanded version of the Mexico City Policy, a rule that prevents the US from funding organizations that provide or discuss abortions with the populations they serve. While most Republican presidents have used that policy, Trump’s version applies to all US health funding abroad — not just family planning funds that prior Republican administrations regulated. This includes organizations devoted to curbing HIV/AIDS, which the Bush administration left alone, Kowalski said.