USAID urges UN to remove abortion access as part of global COVID-19 response

USAID urges UN to remove abortion access as part of global COVID-19 response
© Getty

The U.S. agency providing humanitarian assistance abroad is slamming the United Nations for highlighting access to abortion as an essential health service part of the global response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

John Barsa, acting administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), sent a letter Monday to U.N. Secretary General António Guterres accusing the global forum of “cynically” advancing sexual and reproductive health as an essential service.

Barsa continued that the U.N. “should not use this crisis as an opportunity to advance access to abortion as an ‘essential service.’”

ADVERTISEMENT

The U.N. in March launched a $2 billion coordinated global humanitarian response plan to fight COVID-19 in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries, saying that the viral spread threatens to disrupt essential health services for the general population, “including sexual and reproductive health services, mental health and psychosocial support, and overall management of non-communicable diseases.”

The World Health Organization, as part of its focus on ensuring sexual and reproductive health as an essential service, has also highlighted “safe access to abortion” that should be protected while countries respond to COVID-19. 

And the WHO has warned that women and girls are particularly vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic, as violence against women — physical, mental and sexual — worsen during humanitarian crises. Women and girls are at increased risk for reproductive health problems, including sexually transmitted infections, HIV and unplanned pregnancies. 

While President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran MORE has halted funding for the WHO over accusations it failed to address the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and is biased towards China, Barsa said in his letter that the U.S. continues to be a top donor to the United Nations and its relevant agencies.

Barsa highlighted that the U.S. has provided $45.3 million to U.N. agencies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and had provided approximately $3.5 billion over the course of 2019 to U.N. programs.

Barsa, in his letter, said that sexual and reproductive health services do not rise to the same level of importance as food-insecurity, essential health care, malnutrition, shelter and sanitation and criticized the Global Health Response Plan for what it believes is its promotion of abortion services.

“Therefore, I ask that you remove references to ‘sexual and reproductive health,’ and its derivatives from the Global HRP, and drop the provision of abortion as an essential component of the UN’s priorities to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Barsa wrote.