General Articles

United States Renews Support for Reproductive Rights at United Nations

The Obama administration seems poised to take a decidedly different approach to United States leadership in the area international sexual and reproductive health and rights than did its predecessor. This became quite apparent in March at the 42nd session of the United Nations Commission on Population and Development (CPD) held at the UN headquarters in New York.

On March 31, Margaret J. Pollack, the head of the United States Delegation to the CPD, delivered a statement which conveyed the “renewed and deep commitment of the United States Government to the goals and aspirations of the ICPD.” She added that, “The United States is firmly committed to reproductive health services.”[i]   
Pollack also demonstrated clear support of the United States for comprehensive sexuality education when she urged that “we must do much more to provide comprehensive, accurate information and education on sexuality, sexual and reproductive health for women, men, girls, and boys as they age and their needs evolve.”[ii]  
Sexual and reproductive health and rights advocates welcomed this statement and the shift in the new administration’s priorities that it represents. Population Action International hailed Pollack’s statement as a sign of a “new era of US engagement on reproductive rights at the UN… another signal of the new [direction in which] the Obama administration is steering America’s policy on reproductive health.” [iii]
The statement further recounted the many progressive steps regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights taken by the Obama administration. After only a few days in office, President Obama reversed the Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule, a rule which denied U.S. foreign support to organizations that supported or performed abortion services. Obama said the rule had “undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning in developing countries.”[iv] 
Also among those accomplishments mentioned on the floor of the CPD plenary was the administration’s commitment to reinstating funds to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) under the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009. The U.S. plans to contribute $50 million for Fiscal Year 2009, a 130% increase over its 2001 contribution, the last year in which funds were appropriated by the United States.[v] Under the Omnibus, Congress also approved $545 million in family planning bilateral assistance, meaning that funding for international family planning is provided through both the U.S. Agency for International Development and through U.S. voluntary contributions UNFPA.[vi]  
Pollack also shared the news of the Obama administration dedication to realizing human rights through the endorsement in March of the UN statement on “Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity.”[vii] Pollack described this move as a signal of “our collective support of the statement’s main objective—the condemnation of human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, just as we condemn any other failure to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”[viii] In line with that commitment to human rights, Pollack stated that ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is also a priority for the administration, furthering its progressive stance on women’s rights.[ix]
“We welcome the return of bold U.S. leadership on sexual and reproductive health and rights at the international level,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS. Smith continued, “We look forward to continued steps from President Obama’s administration to ensure that people around the world have access to safe, effective, and affordable methods of voluntary family planning, medically accurate and evidence-based information, essential maternal care services, and STI and HIV diagnostic and treatment services.”

[i] United States Mission to the United Nations, “Statement by Margaret J. Pollack, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, and Head of the United States Delegation to the United Nations Commission on Population and Development,” Press Release published 31 March 2009, accessed 17 April 2009, <>.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Suzanna Dennis and Susan Anderson, “U.S. Government Renews Commitment to Cairo; Increases Funding for ICPD,” Population Action International, 8 April 2009, accessed 17 April 2009 <>.

[iv] “Statement released after the President rescinds ‘Mexico City Policy’,” The White House Blog, (24 January 2009), accessed 17 April 2009, <>.

[v] United States Mission to the United Nations, “Statement by Margaret J. Pollack.”

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Robert Wood, “UN Statement on ‘Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity,” U.S. Department of State, Press Release published 18 March 2009, accessed 17 April 2009 <>.

[viii] United States Mission to the United Nations, “Statement by Margaret J. Pollack.”

[ix] Ibid.