In an open letter to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the U.S. Agency for International Development told the UN to stop treating abortion as essential humanitarian relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.
John Barsa, acting director of USAID, reminded Guterres that the U.S. is the largest funder of the UN, global health, and humanitarian assistance. He added: “As the UN and Member States around the world work to address the pandemic of COVID-19, I urge you, your staff, and the UN’s funds, programs, and specialized and technical agencies to stay focused on life-saving interventions.”
Barsa continued: “The UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan (Global HRP), and its $6.71 billion coordinated appeal, must remain focused on addressing the most urgent, concrete needs that are arising out of the pandemic. Therefore, the UN should not use this crisis as an opportunity to advance access to abortion as an ‘essential service’.”
Barsa explained: “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.”
Stefano Gennarini, vice president for legal studies at the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam) in New York, said “the letter is unprecedented in its direct criticism of the UN bureaucracy’s promotion of abortion as humanitarian aid.”
It is not the first time, however, that the Trump administration has informed the UN that it should cease its abortion advocacy.
Last year, President Donald Trump told the General Assembly the UN has “no business attacking the sovereignty of nations that wish to protect innocent life.” Trump has said his administration will “never tire defending innocent human life.” Last December, Trump’s Health and Human Secretary, Alex Azar, released a letter co-signed with 10 other countries, criticizing the pro-abortion agenda of the Nairobi Summit in Kenya. In October, Azar released a letter co-signed with 18 other countries, denouncing the High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage for promoting divisive issues such as sex education and abortion rather than focusing on primary health care. Azar wrote that the 19 signatories, including the U.S., were “united on a positive, constructive goal: focusing the international discourse around healthcare on better health and on the preservation of human life.”
Barsa wrote in his letter that the UN “should not intimidate or coerce Member States that are committed to the right to life” and, “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.”
Days before the letter was published, Ecuadorian elected officials and pro-life groups told the Catholic News Agency that Ecuador’s Ministry of Foreign Relations and Mobility was told that it could have $46 million from the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan if the government agreed to earmark $3 million to train “health care personnel on safe, legal abortion and post-abortion care.” The Guayaquil Family Network launched a petition urging President Lenin Moreno to reject the abortion “shakedown” from the UN, noting that Article 45 of Ecuador’s constitution guarantees the right to life from conception. On May 6, Ecuador signed a declaration “to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights” during the pandemic. Assemblyman Hector Yepez said it made no sense to “want to save some lives,” while also insisting “on eliminating the lives of unborn girls and boys.”
Barsa concludes that, “it is essential that the UN’s response to the pandemic avoid creating controversy. Therefore, I ask that you remove references to ‘sexual and reproductive health,’ and its derivatives from the Global HRP (Humanitarian Response Plan), and drop the provision of abortion as an essential component of the UN’s priorities to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
CNN reported that Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) criticized Barsa’s letter. “USAID should be ashamed for its outlandish attempt to use coronavirus as a means of dismantling a long-standing sexual and reproductive health rights framework from the UN’s pandemic response,” said Sippel. “When the United States steps away from an internationally agreed upon SRHR framework, it steps away from protecting women’s right to life.”
The National Right to Life Committee congratulated Trump for his pro-life message to the UN: “the United States has made clear that we will ‘never tire of defending innocent life’.”