When it comes to certain key global issues, the world has become used to a familiar pattern over the last two years: the United States against them all. It’s the only country outside the Paris climate accord, and it is one of the only nations opposed to a recent U.N. agreement on migration, as well.
More surprising, the United States has now taken its rebellion against the global consensus to issues not usually considered controversial.
In July, U.S. officials forced Ecuador to refrain from backing a resolution in support of breast-feeding, opposing decades of academic consensus. Instead, the United States sided with American infant formula producers. U.S. officials dropped their opposition once Russia threw its weight behind the resolution.
In the U.N. General Assembly on Monday, the United States found itself once again isolated on the world stage on two matters that are essential to women’s rights. It was the only country that opposed nonbinding language in a draft resolution designed to tackle violence against girls and women, as well as sexual harassment. It was also almost alone in its opposition to language used in another draft resolution against early and forced marriage — only the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru felt comfortable with being on Washington’s side this time. (Nauru is most commonly associated with an Australian offshore migrant camp, where children and other refugees are being held under inhumane conditions, according to rights groups.)
In both cases, the United States’ opposition on Monday was triggered by references to “sexual and reproductive health,” which the U.S. delegation implied could “suggest the promotion of abortion or a right to abortion that are unacceptable to our administration,” according to Reuters. U.S. statements also indicated that there were concerns about the resolution conflating “physical violence against women with sexual harassment.”
“We do not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance,” the U.S. delegation stated in a prior intervention back in November, even though it emphasized that “the United States supports the condemnation of both sexual harassment and violence and assault against women.”
While Monday’s opposition in the U.N. General Assembly put the United States in an awkward position, its stance on the issue isn’t new.
In one of his first moves after becoming president, Trump signed an executive order last year that banned U.S. assistance to any non-U.S. organization performing, promoting or providing information on abortion. As a result, health providers around the world — with many of them operating in remote areas where help is direly needed — were cut off from U.S. funding. The executive order also affects the large number of nongovernmental organizations that treat a vast array of illnesses and offer abortions as one of many health services.
While prior Republican U.S. presidents have similarly stopped overseas family-planning funds for abortions, the current executive order applies to all global health aid funding, which is almost 15 times higher than the budget previously affected.
Trump’s decision has already triggered uncertainty in aid-dependent nations, according to my colleagues Max Bearak and Carol Morello.
But it has also complicated international efforts to agree on broader human rights frameworks, as Monday’s votes showed. While the United States was the only country opposed to language included in the resolution on violence against girls and women, it certainly wasn’t the only government opposed to encouraging abortions.
Instead of putting the resolution into jeopardy, however, 31 other countries with the same view decided to abstain.