US fails to weaken UN references to sexual health

November 16, 2018 GMT

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States failed in an attempt to water down references to “sexual and reproductive health” in a U.N. resolution Thursday despite support from China and many Islamic countries.

The General Assembly’s human rights committee defeated the U.S. attempt to amend the resolution aimed at preventing and ending early and forced child marriages by a vote of 33-96 with 35 abstentions. Traditional U.S. allies including the European Union and Western nations opposed the Trump administration’s amendment along with many African and Latin American countries.


The amendment would have weakened all references to “sexual and reproductive health” in the text by adding the words “in accordance with national laws” immediately afterward.

Following the amendment’s defeat, the committee adopted the resolution sponsored by Canada and Zambia by consensus. It is virtually certain to be approved by the 193-member assembly in December.

Kelley Currie, the deputy U.S. ambassador for economic and social affairs, introduced the last-minute amendment to what she called “controversial” language.

The reference to “sexual and reproductive health” was approved by nearly 190 countries at the 1994 U.N. population conference in Cairo. Its plan of action includes language stating that “reproductive health ... also includes sexual health, the purpose of which is the enhancement of life and personal relations, and not merely counseling and care related to reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases.”

A U.S. Mission spokesperson said that over the years, the term sexual and reproductive health has accumulated connotations that run counter to the consensus forged in Cairo, including the promotion of abortion or the right to abortion. The United States doesn’t recognize abortion as a method of family planning and therefore proposed the amendments, said the spokesperson, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Austrian Ambassador Jan Kickert, speaking on behalf of the EU, backed the long-agreed U.N. language on “sexual and reproductive health” and opposed the U.S. amendments, which he said “could only have negative consequences impacting first and foremost the most fundamental rights of women, girls and children.”

British Ambassador Karen Pierce said, “Protecting children and girls from early and forced marriage, with everything that that entails about sexual and health reproductive rights, is a critical part of economic development — as the 110 co-sponsors of this resolution have realized.”

The United Kingdom’s development agency “prioritizes the promotion of sexual and reproductive health” because “it’s the right thing to do, but it’s also a smart thing to do,” she said.