Last week the United States threatened to veto a UN Security Council resolution aimed at ending sexual violence in conflict, forcing a last minute change to remove references to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors. The move represented a dangerous escalation of the Trump administration’s increasingly hardline stance at the United Nations by foisting its regressive agenda on the UN Security Council.
The text in question, Resolution 2467, echoed previous UN Security Council resolutions on sexual violence in conflict, and included a specific reference to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors. The Trump administration objected to this language due to its aggressive anti-abortion stance and, after several weeks of negotiation, threatened to veto the resolution if commitments to providing sexual and reproductive health services to survivors were retained.
Unlike other UN forums, where agreements are reached by consensus, Security Council resolutions are voted on, and its five permanent members—the US, China, Russia, UK, and France—wield the power to veto any resolution. As a result, the lead German negotiator was forced to concede to US demands and remove the paragraph that included language on access to sexual and reproductive health services. By threatening a veto, the US effectively forced the international community to backtrack on previous global commitments to women’s health and rights.
The removal of the language underscores the extreme ideology of the Trump administration. UN human rights bodies, which oversee implementation of treaties that the US has ratified, have emphasized that states have an obligation to provide sexual and reproductive health care, in particular abortion, to survivors of violence. In its latest General Comment on the Right to Life, released in October 2018, the Human Rights Committee explicitly noted that countries “must provide safe, legal and effective access to abortion,” as “carrying a pregnancy to term would cause the pregnant woman or girl substantial pain or suffering, most notably where the pregnancy is the result of rape.” Additionally, the Committee against Torture has noted that forced pregnancy, particularly in the context of violence, constitutes torture. The Trump administration’s position is at odds with human rights standards and the critical fact that survivors of sexual violence require access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care services, including emergency contraception and abortion, without judgment or discrimination.
The US behavior at the Security Council echoed recent actions by the US in UN negotiations—most recently at the Commission on the Status of Women, where US negotiators attempted to upend consensus in an attempt to undermine commitments to women’s rights. Specifically, US negotiators attempted to remove references to sexual and reproductive health and to undermine other critical commitments. In the official US government statement Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet called for the deletion of language on gender and gender equality, stating: “Let’s be clear – we are not about gender jargon.” Similarly, the Department of Health and Human Service’s Valerie Huber told attendees at a conservative event that the US would oppose any reference to sexual and reproductive health. The US government’s disregard towards gender equality and women’s rights made negotiations at the CSW a long and fraught process.
Despite the US attempts to sabotage existing commitments, the CSW Agreed Conclusions reaffirmed member states’ commitment to women’s human rights, including by ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, their reproductive rights, and their right to control their sexuality.
The US succeeded this week in undermining women’s rights at the UN Security Council for one reason, and one reason alone: their right of veto. The use of this threat to strong-arm other governments into conceding represents an escalation of the Trump administration’s attacks on international agreements and, specifically, women’s and girls’ health and human rights. Moving forward, it is critical that the international community stands with women and girls around the world to resist President Trump’s efforts to further roll back decades of progress.