US Tells UN Secretary General to Focus on Life-saving, not Abortion

By Marie Smith, Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues

The acting administrator for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), John Barsa, sent a strong message to United Nations Secretary General António Guterres (SG) letting him know that the United States stands with nations that have pledged to protect the unborn. 

In the letter, Barsa expressed the Trump administration’s concern that during the pandemic the SG, his staff, and the UN’s funds, programs, and specialized agencies need to stay focused on life-saving interventions and not seek to advance abortion in countries with pro-life laws.

The letter reminds the SG that the U.S. is the world’s largest donor of global health and humanitarian assistance with USAID disbursing over $3.5 billion to the UN in fiscal year 2019, $650.7 million to combat the pandemic globally with $45.3 million of that to UN agencies. It expresses U.S. belief that the “delivery of essential health care is the first priority around the globe during this time” and secondly that the U.S. believes severe food shortages which “could represent a second, deadly impact of the pandemic in many countries” must be prioritized.

The acting USAID administrator explained that the Trump administration’s concern is based in part on the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan (Global HRP), and its $6.71 billion coordinated appeal. Mr. Barsa writes,

Therefore, the UN should not use this crisis as an opportunity to advance access to abortion as an ‘essential service.’ Unfortunately, the Global HRP does just this, by cynically placing the provision of ‘sexual and reproductive health services’ on the same level of importance as food-insecurity, essential health care, malnutrition, shelter, and sanitation. Most egregious is that the Global HRP calls for the widespread distribution of abortion-inducing drugs and abortion supplies, and for the promotion of abortion in local country settings.”

The U.S. seeks removal of the controversial term “sexual and reproductive health” from the UN’s humanitarian plan. According to Mr. Barsa, 

“Therefore, I ask that you remove references to and its derivatives from the Global HRP, and drop the provision of abortion as an essential component of the UN’s priorities to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SG is also reminded of the controversy that exists at the UN over terms that reference abortion:

“Member States are deeply divided over the use of the term ‘sexual and reproductive health’ and its derivatives, and it is among the most polarizing issues raised in UN negotiations. The Global HRP, and the activities of UN agencies and bodies moving forward, should use clear language and take clear action to address the real needs of vulnerable people around the world without promoting abortion. Now is not the time to add unnecessary discord to the COVID-19 response.

President Trump’s strong pro-life message to the 74th UN General Assembly is quoted in the letter to underscore U.S. commitment to saving all lives:

“Under the leadership of President Donald J. Trump, the United States has made clear that we will ‘never tire of defending innocent life.’ President Trump said in his address to the 74th UN General Assembly that the UN simply has ‘no business attacking the sovereignty of nations that wish to protect innocent life.’ Indeed, the UN should not intimidate or coerce Member States that are committed to the right to life.”

In conclusion, Barsa objected to UN use of the pandemic to advance access to abortion, an act opposed by many countries which seek to protect the unborn:

“To use the COVID-19 pandemic as a justification to pressure governments to change their laws is an affront to the autonomy of each society to determine its own national policies on health care. The United States stands with nations that have pledged to protect the unborn.”