Trump's War on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Is Global | Opinion

The Trump administration and Republicans are leading an unprecedented attack on sexual and reproductive rights, but this crusade isn't just domestic. It's international, with the potential to affect not just millions of Americans but billions of people worldwide.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) sounds complicated, but it's not. It's the basic concept—grounded in decades of international agreements—that individuals have the right to access information and services they need to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives free from violence, coercion and discrimination.

Over the past 50 years, the global community has evolved in its acceptance and promotion of SRHR as a critical framework to address poverty. Its approach to sustainable development has shifted away from population control as a means to achieve economic growth and toward a plan focused on human rights and gender equality.

But after decades of momentum favoring the advancement of sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, the Trump administration is waging a radical and calculated plan to unravel this global consensus and send us back to a time where the health and rights of women, children, gender-nonconforming individuals and LGBTQ people were not only invisible but openly threatened.

After World War II, the U.S. and other donor countries started to invest in international family-planning programs. Because these programs focused on demographics and not centered on people, programs were prone to human rights violations, and women's rights advocates from the Global South and their allies to the north sounded the alarm. Consequently, in 1994, the U.S. joined more than 170 countries in adopting a sexual and reproductive health and rights framework as a pathway to achieve gender equality and sustainable development at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.

More than two decades later, under President Barack Obama, the U.S. officially adopted the term "sexual and reproductive health and rights," and incorporated SRHR into statements and policies on global health, human rights and humanitarian assistance. While the U.S. definition of these rights, specifically the right to access abortion, has changed based on who was in the White House, the Trump administration's approach marks a radical departure from this framework.

On just his fourth day in the White House, Trump reinstated and expanded the "global gag rule," which restricts overseas nongovernmental organizations from receiving U.S. global health assistance if they provide, refer, counsel or advocate for abortion as a method of family planning. This policy halts the life-saving work of many organizations involved in family planning, maternal and child health, and HIV and cervical cancer prevention and care. The Center for Health and Gender Equity has documented the impacts of the policy and found it significantly damages health care for women, girls and families.

But the Trump administration's attacks on SRHR aren't just restricted to U.S. policy. They also aim to undermine the global consensus on SRHR.

In 2017, the Trump administration stood shoulder to shoulder with Iran, Syria, Sudan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to strip language on sexual and reproductive rights out of official communiques from the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. In 2018, members of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Mission to the United Nations asked for references to contraception, abortion and comprehensive sex education to be deleted from a document on global gender equality, calling the U.S. a "pro-life nation." Even when nearly 100 other U.N. member states refused and forced the U.S. to maintain references to "universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning," the U.S. released a statement saying that it "does not understand the include the promotion of abortion and education strategies that may increase sexual risk."

Also in 2018, the State Department sought to ban U.S. diplomats from using the term, and at the U.N. Security Council meeting, the Trump administration threatened to veto a resolution condemning conflict-related sexual violence because it mentioned women's reproductive health services. The resolution was ultimately adopted without language on access—a major blow to women's health and survivors of war rape around the world.

Women, health, Liberia
Women wait to be checked at the maternity unit of the Phebe Hospital in Bong Town, central Liberia, on May 27. Getty/ZOOM DOSSO/AFP

The Trump administration shows no signs of slowing down its attacks. Most recently, President Donald Trump derailed the G7 meeting in Canada after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attempted to focus the agenda on women's empowerment. While at a meeting of the World Health Assembly, again U.S. negotiators objected to the use of SRHR terminology.

The extent and speed of the Trump administration's push to bring its domestic anti-SRHR agenda to the U.N. and other global fora are alarming. This effort should not be dismissed as merely a political maneuver to satisfy Trump's base. It is part of a well-established agenda to eliminate the human rights framework from U.S. and global efforts to advance economic development and sustainability without any regard to the human cost.

The Trump administration's crusade against SRHR is a global attack on our rights, and the people who are most impacted don't have a voice in U.S. policy. As we fight for our rights at home, we stand in solidarity with millions of people around the world. The framework focusing on sexual and reproductive health and rights is the right one, and together we will defend it.

Serra Sippel is the president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) and leads the organization's advocacy agenda to advance gender equality by promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights globally. Follow Serra on Twitter at @SerraSippel.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.