The Washington Post

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion o∞cials work to build global an­tiabor­tion coali­tion

- BY ARI­ANA EUNJUNG CHA AND LENA H. SUN ari­ana.cha@wash­post.com lena.sun@wash­post.com U.S. News · US Politics · Society · Elections · Human Rights · Politics

Va­lerie Hu­ber, a top Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices of­fi­cial, was the spe­cial guest at a New York City event Tues­day that in­cluded rep­re­sen­ta­tives of dozens of na­tions in town for a key women’s rights con­fer­ence.

The gath­er­ing fea­tured a screen­ing of the film “Strings At­tached,” which takes aim at the West’s “ide­o­log­i­cal col­o­niza­tion” of Africa through in­ter­views with women who ex­pe­ri­enced side ef­fects from con­tra­cep­tion or who re­gret­ted hav­ing abor­tions, ac­cord­ing to two at­ten­dees. Hu­ber used her spot­light to em­pha­size the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s com­mit­ment to “pro­tect­ing life” in global health as­sis­tance.

Hu­ber’s ap­pear­ance at the event — spon­sored by the Cen­ter for Fam­ily and Hu­man Rights, or C-Fam, a think tank with Catholic ties whose mis­sion is “to de­fend life and fam­ily at in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions,” and Nige­ria, which gen­er­ally sup­ports com­pre­hen­sive fam­ily plan­ning — is part of a new ef­fort by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to build an in­ter­na­tional coali­tion to re­strict ac­cess to abor­tion and pro­mote tra­di­tional val­ues about the fam­ily.

Over the past few months, Hu­ber and other U.S. of­fi­cials have trav­eled the world invit­ing other na­tions to join the cause. In meet­ings — ac­cord­ing to peo­ple privy to the dis­cus­sions who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity, be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the ne­go­ti­a­tions — Hu­ber, who pre­vi­ously founded an ab­sti­nence-only sex-ed­u­ca­tion group, has said that “health and rights mean dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple.”

The first test of the coali­tion comes this week as U.S. ne­go­tia­tors seek to ex­cise ref­er­ences to “uni­ver­sal ac­cess to sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive health and rights” — which they ar­gue pro­motes abor­tion and nor­mal­izes sex­ual ac­tiv­ity among youths — in an an­nual U.N. Com­mis­sion on the Sta­tus of Women doc­u­ment about em­pow­er­ing women. They also want to re­place “gen­der-re­spon­sive” with “fam­ily-cen­tered” in calls for more-in­clu­sive pub­lic ser­vices.

And they are push­ing to add a sec­tion rec­og­niz­ing that “women’s con­tri­bu­tion to the home, in­clud­ing through un­paid care and do­mes­tic work, which is not ad­e­quately rec­og­nized, gen­er­ates hu­man and so­cial cap­i­tal.”

U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tives have in­di­cated that a dec­la­ra­tion without their pro­posed changes is “un­ac­cept­able,” ac­cord­ing to par­tic­i­pants at the meet­ings.

Their po­si­tion has the back­ing of non­tra­di­tional al­lies such as Bahrain, Malaysia, Saudi Ara­bia and pos­si­bly Rus­sia but has drawn strong op­po­si­tion by many Eu­ro­pean coun­tries.

In the first year of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, Chris­tian so­cial con­ser­va­tives placed in high-level jobs — Hu­ber among them — fo­cused mostly on U.S. pol­icy. They were highly suc­cess­ful, push­ing through a re­li­gious ex­emp­tion to the Af­ford­able Care Act’s birth-con­trol man­date, pri­or­i­tiz­ing ab­sti­nence-only sex ed­u­ca­tion and im­pos­ing what crit­ics call “gag rules” on fam­ily-plan­ning groups re­ceiv­ing $286 mil­lion in the United States and up to $7.4 bil­lion around the world, pro­hibit­ing them from re­fer­ring for abor­tions.

Now, they are seek­ing to spread those views to the rest of the world by build­ing a coali­tion of na­tions that would wield clout be­yond the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The United States sought to in­flu­ence global res­o­lu­tions on re­pro­duc­tive rights on sev­eral oc­ca­sions last year, ac­cord­ing to coun­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives and civil­so­ci­ety ad­vo­cates, but stum­bled on its own. In De­cem­ber, U.S. of­fi­cials drew scorn for hold­ing up im­por­tant ne­go­ti­a­tions on refugees and forced mar­riage while they tried and failed to get sup­port for re­mov­ing ref­er­ences to sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive health. And ear­lier in 2018, U.S. Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tive Bethany Kozma, who has been vo­cal in op­pos­ing trans­gen­der chil­dren’s ac­cess to bath­rooms of their choice, alien­ated some for­eign diplo­mats. This year, ob­servers say, the U.S. group has come back bet­ter pre­pared, more knowl­edge­able about the play­ers and more so­phis­ti­cated — and more likely to be ef­fec­tive.

Civil-so­ci­ety groups fo­cused on women’s rights ex­pressed dis­may at the ef­forts. They ac­cused the United States of putting un­fair pres­sure on poor coun­tries that de­pend on U.S. for­eign aid and of align­ing with coun­tries with poor hu­man rights records.

Serra Sip­pel, pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for Health and Gen­der Equity, a Wash­ing­ton-based ad­vo­cacy group, said the U.S. plan amounts to “bul­ly­ing.”

Elisha Dunn-Ge­or­giou, vice pres­i­dent of pro­grams for PAI, which works on uni­ver­sal ac­cess to re­pro­duc­tive health care glob­ally, said such a coali­tion would al­low coun­tries “with more dra­co­nian laws about women’s rights or sex­ual mi­nori­ties to skirt their obli­ga­tions un­der in­ter­na­tional mech­a­nisms.”

“The U.S. stance this time en­ables other bad ac­tors at the U.N. ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble,” Dunn-Ge­or­giou said.

HHS spokes­woman Caitlin Oak­ley said that the United States un­der Pres­i­dent Trump “un­equiv­o­cally sup­ports the em­pow­er­ment of women and girls, in­clud­ing health pro­mo­tion for women and girls across the life course.” How­ever, she said, the mean­ing of sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive health “has un­for­tu­nately evolved in the mul­ti­lat­eral set­ting to in­clude abor­tion.”

“As a pro-life ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion does not sup­port abor­tion,” Oak­ley said.

The State Depart­ment said that it does not com­ment on on­go­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions but that it con­sid­ers Saudi Ara­bia an im­por­tant strate­gic part­ner and has re­layed the United States’ con­cerns about its “hu­man rights sit­u­a­tion” pub­licly, as well as in pri­vate diplo­matic en­gage­ments.

Sim­i­lar to its strat­egy within the United States — where of­fi­cials op­posed to abor­tion rights use bu­reau­cratic levers to achieve their goals — the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion emis­saries to in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions have fo­cused on lan­guage tweaks in multi­na­tional dis­cus­sions, agree­ments, dec­la­ra­tions and trade deals that may ap­pear ob­scure but have the po­ten­tial to af­fect bil­lions of peo­ple.

In the No­vem­ber trade agree­ment be­tween the United States, Mex­ico and Canada, for ex­am­ple, U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tives changed an ini­tial draft that pro­hib­ited the sig­na­to­ries from en­gag­ing in LGBT em­ploy­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion to say that ev­ery coun­try should pro­ceed as it “con­sid­ers ap­pro­pri­ate.” Late last year, ac­cord­ing to a State Depart­ment memo ob­tained by For­eign Pol­icy, the United States urged diplo­mats to avoid phrases such as “sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive health” or “com­pre­hen­sive sex­u­al­ity ed­u­ca­tion.”

Hu­ber, who shifted from a do­mes­tic role at HHS to global af­fairs in Jan­uary, is per­haps the most high-pro­file new face of the United States at in­ter­na­tional meet­ings.

Pop­u­lar on the re­li­gious right, she spear­headed some of the most con­tro­ver­sial do­mes­tic U.S. ini­tia­tives on sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive health over the past year. She is a key ar­chi­tect of ef­forts (later re­versed after court chal­lenges) to ter­mi­nate $220 mil­lion in Teen Preg­nancy Pre­ven­tion Pro­gram grants used to study ap­proaches to lower teen preg­nancy rates and to re­di­rect some of those funds to ab­sti­nence-only ini­tia­tives.

At a meet­ing of the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion at its head­quar­ters in Geneva in late Jan­uary that drew lead­ers from 34 coun­tries to dis­cuss pan­demic in­fluenza and how to pro­tect refugees, ob­servers said U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tives were more fo­cused on speak­ing about women and fam­i­lies.

Coun­try del­e­gates and oth­ers briefed on the con­ver­sa­tions said U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tives talked about how the mil­lions spent on con­tra­cep­tives have not al­ways been ef­fec­tive in low­er­ing the rate of un­wanted preg­nan­cies and sug­gested this money could be put to bet­ter use for “sex­ual risk avoid­ance” (or ab­sti­nence) ed­u­ca­tion and other pro­grams.

Dur­ing one side meet­ing in a lounge ad­ja­cent to the main con­fer­ence hall, Hu­ber and Garrett Grigsby, who is di­rec­tor of HHS’s global af­fairs of­fice and pre­vi­ously led Chris­tian Con­nec­tions for In­ter­na­tional Health, pitched their plan to rep­re­sen­ta­tives from an African coun­try. The U.S. of­fi­cials men­tioned they had al­ready spo­ken to South Africa’s Princess Nothemba Simelela, WHO’s as­sis­tant di­rec­tor-gen­eral for sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive health and rights, and noted that Rus­sia ap­peared to be en­gaged, ac­cord­ing to a con­fer­ence par­tic­i­pant’s notes.

Sev­eral times in the con­ver­sa­tion, the pair em­pha­sized how big a pri­or­ity the con­ser­va­tive coali­tion is for the United States.

“This is im­por­tant to us,” Hu­ber said.

“This is im­por­tant,” Grigsby echoed.

“It does not mat­ter who is in the White House. This will last,” Grigsby said at a dif­fer­ent point.

“So,” he asked, “do we have a deal?”

“The U.S. stance this time en­ables other bad ac­tors at the U.N. ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble.” Elisha Dunn-Ge­or­giou, a vice pres­i­dent with PAI, a global re­pro­duc­tive rights group

 ?? LUIS TATO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES ?? Women line up to vote in Yola, Nige­ria, last year. Nige­ria gen­er­ally sup­ports fam­ily-plan­ning ef­forts, but on Tues­day it co-hosted an event in New York fea­tur­ing Va­lerie Hu­ber, a Trump of­fi­cial lead­ing the push to re­fo­cus U.S. global health pol­icy away from re­pro­duc­tive rights.
LUIS TATO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES Women line up to vote in Yola, Nige­ria, last year. Nige­ria gen­er­ally sup­ports fam­ily-plan­ning ef­forts, but on Tues­day it co-hosted an event in New York fea­tur­ing Va­lerie Hu­ber, a Trump of­fi­cial lead­ing the push to re­fo­cus U.S. global health pol­icy away from re­pro­duc­tive rights.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA