“Silent No More,” a coalition of 19 countries broadcasted a clear and simple message to the United Nations upon the release of a new declaration on the issue of health coverage — keep the focus on health, not on abortion.
The joint statement read aloud on the morning of Sept. 23 in the General Assembly hall put on record strong objections to the thinly veiled promotion of abortion and other contentious themes in the Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage. The countries made clear, “There is no international right to an abortion, and these terms should not be used to promote pro-abortion policies and measures.”
With the eyes of the world on the U.N. this week, the governments were careful to underscore their political commitment to the declaration while making clear that they will not be bound by false interpretations of the text.
The U.N. intends the declaration to be the definitive word on all matters relating to health coverage, and as with all texts emanating from the U.N., it will be read by few but affect millions. As these countries have done, it is imperative that governments voice their objections, lest they be expected to advance agendas that violate their national laws.
United States leadership on the pro-life front explains much of the resurgence of long-dormant political will to challenge the U.N. The strength of the U.S. lies in the unique ability to bring together a coalition of countries around this issue. In July 2019, the group was comprised of nine countries that objected to abortion promotion at the World Heath Assembly. In two month’s time, it has more than doubled and is expected to continue growing.
This time, the joint statement brought together the following countries: the U.S., Bahrain, Belarus, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Guatemala, Haiti, Hungary, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. This highly diverse grouping is united not by geography, or shared culture, but by a common commitment to U.N. accountability.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of U.N. member states are concerned with overreach by the U.N. bureaucracy, displays of international solidarity on this issue are rare. Often falling victim to pressure, governments are reticent to show public dissent. This event was remarkable in that it demonstrated the power of the collective to send a signal much more loudly than any one country can on its own.
The signatories of the joint statement represent a diverse array of domestic positions on abortion. Within the group are countries that restrict abortion heavily, protect life entirely, or are currently experiencing national debate on the matter — none more strikingly than the U.S. In the midst of stark national differences and virulent internal dissent, what they share is a rejection of the U.N. tendency to prioritize contentious issues over those of clear international urgency.
Evident in the joint statement is a palpable measure of exhaustion that comes from the effort that these countries regularly expend to keep the U.N. at bay when it comes to protecting national sovereignty with regard to issues that fall under domestic jurisdiction. As it notes, “To make the most meaningful progress without delay or dissension, we respectfully call upon member states to join us in concentrating on topics that unite rather than divide on the critical issues surrounding access to health care.”
Furthermore, the joint statement notes, “we do not support references to ambiguous terms and expressions, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights in U.N. documents, because they can undermine the critical role of the family and promote practices, like abortion, in circumstances that do not enjoy international consensus and which can be misinterpreted by U.N. agencies.”
To paraphrase, this was a call by these countries to “leave us be.” U.N. agencies should not be capitalizing off of linguistic ambiguities in U.N. documents to illegitimately force countries to change their laws. For governments to effectively navigate already difficult issues such as universal health coverage, the U.N. bureaucracy must stop pushing non-consensual agendas that only serve to clog channels of communication and block political agreement.
With the joint statement, the world is on notice: Countries continue to object to the U.N.’s myopic focus on radical agendas. The ability of these countries to overcome national differences and unite on an issue of such great sensitivity points to the great priority that they accord to curbing U.N. overreach and protecting national sovereignty.
Elyssa Koren is director of U.N. advocacy for ADF International (@ADFIntl), a legal group defending religious freedom.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.