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U.S. joins anti-abortion declaration co-sponsors

by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | October 23, 2020 at 3:56 a.m.

The United States joined Brazil, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia and Uganda on Thursday to co-sponsor a nonbinding international declaration opposing abortion, in a rebuke of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which has enshrined abortion access as a universal right.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar participated in the virtual signing ceremony. The Geneva Consensus Declaration aims to promote women's health, "defends the unborn and reiterates the vital importance of the family," Pompeo said at the ceremony.

Access to abortion is widely restricted in the other countries co-sponsoring the declaration. "There is no international right to abortion," Pompeo said.

Though the document does not directly address same-sex marriage, the only co-sponsors to have legalized it are Brazil and the United States, while the text's language affirms the family as "the natural and fundamental group unit of society." Among the co-sponsors, the Egyptian government targets LGBT people in a "systemic fashion," according to a recent Human Rights Watch report, and in Uganda, gay sex is punishable by death.

The ceremony stood in contrast to Wednesday's news that Pope Francis had expressed support for laws to protect same-sex unions.

The Geneva Consensus formalizes a coalition united in opposition to the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which forms the basis for the characterization of abortion and same-sex marriage as human rights under international law -- a position that key U.S. allies, such as Britain and France, support.

Azar said Thursday that the coalition is intended to "hold multilateral organizations accountable."

Along with the six co-sponsors, 26 countries have additionally joined in as signatories.

"None of those countries [that have co-sponsored] at least currently have a strong commitment to women's health and rights," said Gillian Kane, a senior policy adviser for Ipas, a U.S.-based organization focused on abortion and contraception access around the world. "This administration is out of touch with the needs of women."

The declaration is not legally binding and does not change any existing laws.

In May, U.S. officials accused the United Nations of using coronavirus-related emergency funding for sexual and reproductive health services as a pretext to promote abortions, a charge that the global body denied.

One of President Donald Trump's first moves in office was to reinstate a policy known as the global gag rule, which bans U.S.-funded health care providers from providing or discussing abortions. Democratic presidential nominee former Vice President Joe Biden has pledged to overturn it if elected, as former President Barack Obama did shortly after taking office in 2009.

A 2019 study published in the Lancet found a global "pattern of more frequent abortions and lower contraceptive use" during periods when such U.S. restrictions have been in place.

Meanwhile, Poland's top court ruled Thursday that a law allowing abortion of fetuses with congenital defects is unconstitutional, shutting a major provision in the predominantly Catholic country's abortion laws that are among the strictest in Europe.

Two judges in the 13-member Constitutional Court did not back the majority ruling. Activists deplored the decision, and the Council of Europe's human-rights commissioner wrote on Twitter that it was a "sad day for women's rights."

Hours later, hundreds of protesters defied a pandemic-related ban on gatherings and staged a protest before the court with signs saying "You Have Blood on Your Gowns" and then walked to the offices of the main ruling conservative party, Law and Justice. The police were checking their documents.

The ruling party will soon propose new legislation to better support women, the party's spokeswoman said.

The court's decision came in response to a motion from right-wing lawmakers who argued that terminating a pregnancy due to fetal defects -- the most common reason cited for legal abortions in Poland -- violates a constitutional provision that calls for protecting the life of every individual.

The court argued that terminating pregnancy due to defects of the fetus amounted to eugenics -- a 19th century notion of genetic selection that was later applied by the Nazis in their pseudo-scientific experiments.

Information for this article was contributed by Miriam Berger of The Washington Post; and by Monika Scislowska of The Associated Press.


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