Last Thursday, the administration released a presidential action making it crystal clear that the Biden doctrine for women’s health is defined by abortion above health.
Improving a woman’s health should mean defending her value and dignity throughout every life stage — including before her birth. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), where I served during the Trump administration, did more to protect life than any previous administration.
We restored states’ ability to exclude abortion providers from their Medicaid programs, protected health workers, employers and others from having to violate their consciences, provided transparency on health plans that cover abortion, required separate billing for such coverage and permitted insurers to allow policyholders to opt out of Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace plans that pay for abortion.
The majority of Americans do not want their tax dollars to fund abortion. And regardless of one’s political party or view on abortion, most do not want their tax dollars used for abortion in other countries.
President Biden has different priorities but I hoped he would focus on urgent health needs of women. Sadly, this memorandum reveals a politically motivated agenda geared more toward rewarding powerful interest groups than helping women. It ties domestic and global women’s health policy to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights — a term that includes abortion and wrongly deems it an “essential health service.”
During the Trump administration we also finalized a common sense rule in 2019 requiring abortion to be separate from family planning and that providers not refer for abortion as family planning. All but one Planned Parenthood affiliate refused and gave up about $60 million annually in federal Title X funding, proving that abortion — not helping poor women with family planning — is their top priority.
Instead of giving priority to meet the family planning needs of low-income families, as we did and as the Title X legislation requires, this executive action sets in motion the unlawful subsidization of the abortion industry, likely leaving poor women to suffer.
Thursday’s memo suggests that the reversal of the Mexico City Policy strengthens women’s health programs, but this ignores the fact that under any administration, the U.S. government is the most generous bilateral donor to global health, including for women’s health. The real issue is access to abortion, and with Biden’s action, American foreign aid dollars can now easily be funneled to overseas abortion providers.
Fighting to protect those unable to speak for themselves is more important now than ever given the Biden administration’s position on abortion. Fortunately, there is one pro-woman and pro-life victory we achieved that executive orders cannot undo.
It goes without saying that when the UN, the World Health Organization (WHO) or rich donor countries push for abortion as a universal human right, it exerts enormous pressure on pro-life countries. No country (or person) wants to be accused of violating human rights with the public shaming and loss of foreign aid that can follow. There is a sincere disagreement over abortion policy, but the high pressure tactics disrespect the core values of many nations and infringe on their national sovereignty, straining diplomatic relations. Tragically, it often prevents women from getting the health care they need because the time, resources and leadership diverted to debates over abortion do nothing to advance many women’s health priorities. This was the approach of President Obama, but the Trump administration chose to call out this behavior reminding the world that while there is a universal right to life, there is in fact, no universal right to abortion.
In October 2020, the U.S. and a coalition of 34 other nations — representing every region of the world and more than 1.6 billion people — signed the historic Geneva Consensus Declaration (GCD), committing to work together to protect women’s health, the family, life at all stages and a nation’s sovereign right to make their own laws on these sensitive issues. Nation after nation stated at the signing of the GCD that aspiring to strengthen women’s health, protecting life and the family and recognizing national sovereignty are inseparable from their national identity and must be respected.
This declaration is based on language previously agreed to, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and which were adopted by the family of nations, including the United States.
Like Planned Parenthood’s eye-opening decision to choose abortion over meeting the family planning needs of poor women, Biden appears to be choosing to promote abortion over women’s urgent health needs — domestically and globally.
Principles enshrined in the GCD and embraced by the family of nations over the past 50 years promoting the fundamental rights of all people should not be cavalierly discarded. U.S. rejection of the declaration and criticizing pro-life countries is a diplomatic blunder for an administration that promised to “elevate diplomacy as the premier tool of our global engagement.” Offending nearly one in five nations is not a recipe for strengthening global health security cooperation just when we need to work together to fight COVID-19.
The good news is that — despite efforts from the Biden team — the GCD will endure because of the joint commitment among the 34 other nations. We applaud and support their continuing leadership on the world stage.
The unalienable right to life is stated in our Declaration of Independence and fundamental to every other right we enjoy. Protecting it is our moral obligation. Americans must hold elected leaders, including this president, accountable to protect all life — born and unborn.
Valerie Huber served as the U.S. special representative for Global Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Trump administration.