The Trump administration sent a letter to the United Nations on Monday urging the UN to remove references to reproductive health and abortion in its COVID-19 humanitarian response plan.
The letter was sent from John Barsa, acting administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The letter urges the UN to eliminate all mentions of “sexual and reproductive health” and to drop abortion as a priority in COVID-19 response.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the UN launched a $2 billion response plan in March to support vulnerable countries and marginalized communities. The plan was expanded to $6.7 billion in early May. The May report recognizes that the coronavirus disproportionately affects women and girls, and disrupts access to reproductive health services.
Barsa’s letter is the latest iteration of the United States’ attempt to condition international aid on commitments from organizations to exclude abortion. Since 1985, an inconsistently enforced policy made family planning organizations only eligible for U.S. funding if they did not perform or promote abortions. The Trump administration expanded the policy to apply to all global health assistance, including maternal health programs and HIV/AIDS prevention.
The Trump administration’s letter drew wide criticism from human rights activists. People always have a right to safe abortion, according to Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Centre.
“No matter what the US government says, abortion is a fundamental human right and reproductive care is always essential, including during a pandemic,” she said. Barsa’s demands are “a disgraceful and dangerous attack on essential health services at the worst possible time.”
The demands to the UN come as reproductive rights in the United States are under siege during the pandemic. Many states have labeled abortion services “nonessential” and some have placed drastic restrictions on abortion.
The Trump administration should not use the coronavirus as an excuse to undermine women’s rights globally, according to Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity.
“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,” she said.
Sources: CNN 05/19/20; The Hill 05/19/20; The Independent 05/19/20, United Nations 05/07/20.