United Nations Headquarters' General Assembly Building and Secretariat Building in New York City, USA, Sept. 24, 2015.
Photo by Matt Campbell/EPA

At international meeting on women, Team Trump pushes abstinence message

The annual U.N. Commission on the Status of Women – the international body’s “most important meeting on women’s empowerment,” according to a U.S. official – recently wrapped up a two-week session. BuzzFeed’s report on the event suggests the delegation from the Trump administration wasn’t exactly well received.

In closed-door meetings at the United Nations in March, Trump administration officials pushed socially conservative views on women’s rights issues – including abstinence-based policies over information about contraception – that were further to the right than those expressed by most other countries present, including Russia and the representative for the Arab states, UN officials who attended the meetings told BuzzFeed News.

The Trump officials’ approach at the UN meeting makes it clear that the administration intends to extend its views on abortion, contraception, and sexual education beyond US borders to an extent that is unusual even for Republican administrations.

According to the report, the Trump administration tapped culture-war activist Bethany Kozma to help represent the United States; she declared that the U.S. is a “pro-life nation”; and administration officials proceeded to isolate the United States on family planning issues throughout the international gathering.

In case this isn’t obvious, in the Obama era, U.S. officials helped take the international lead at forums such as these. We’ve since taken a big step in a regressive direction, and according to International Women’s Health Coalition Director Shannon Kowalski, the Trump administration is even “further to the right” and “far more extreme” than the Bush/Cheney administration.

At a certain level, this isn’t entirely surprising. HHS’s Valerie Huber is a longtime abstinence advocate, and Trump put her in charge of deciding which domestic organizations receive federal family planning funds. She also helped lead the delegation to the U.N.’s meeting on women’s empowerment, where, as BuzzFeed put it, “nearly all of the other membership states – many of whom have wildly different stances and priorities on family planning issues – come together against the US.”

Predictable or not, what we’re left with is a multifaceted fiasco. First, the Trump administration is further alienating the country’s ostensible allies. Second, Trump administration officials are apparently pushing antiquated and ineffective ideas on sexual health on the international stage as part of an ideological culture war – in ways that are likely to have adverse consequences for women around the world.

And finally, I’d be remiss if I failed to note the irony lurking in the background. While the Trump administration pushes misguided ideas about abstinence, the head of the Trump administration faces a series of unfortunate controversies about adultery, adult-entertainment actresses, and hush-money payoffs.

As we discussed several weeks ago, Team Trump is clearly the wrong messenger for the wrong message.

Abstinence Education and United Nations

At international meeting on women, Team Trump pushes abstinence message