Democrats Make Abortion a Top Foreign Policy Priority

Dems seek to enshrine abortion as global right

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.) and Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) / edited from Getty Images
June 10, 2021

President Biden and congressional Democrats are pushing to make abortion a foreign policy priority for the United States.

Following the Biden administration's decision to lift the ban on foreign aid for abortion providers, congressional Democrats are calling for the State Department to consider abortion in its assessment of global human rights. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) and Bob Menendez (N.J.) introduced an act to require the State Department to include abortion access in its annual reports on international human rights.

The bill identifies a lack of access to abortion as a human rights violation. "Reproductive coercion, which is any behavior that interferes with autonomous decision making about reproductive health outcomes, is a violation of human rights," the resolution says.

"The bill would require the U.S. State Department to include reproductive rights in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – including reports on the adoption of national policies to promote access to contraception, maternal health care and family planning services – to help ensure accountability around abuses on these rights," the lawmakers said in a statement.

Biden drew objections from Republicans when he removed domestic protections against taxpayer funding for abortions from his $6 trillion budget proposal. The administration has also pursued policies that could pump millions of dollars into pro-abortion organizations operating overseas.

The State Department requested a 12 percent increase for its 2022 fiscal budget, with the most significant increase going to spending on global health initiatives. The budget request includes the Helms Amendment, a provision that is supposed to limit foreign aid funding for abortion. In reality, international abortion organizations have been able to collect tens of millions of taxpayer dollars for decades through family planning programs. The agency's budget includes initiatives designed to increase that funding.

Congressional Republicans have raised concerns about the use of taxpayer money to fund international organizations that provide abortion services or referrals. Republican senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (Miss.) clashed with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a hearing Tuesday, saying the State Department's budget proposal would devote millions of taxpayer dollars to funding abortions overseas.

"Your budget would funnel even more taxpayer dollars to these organizations by increasing the slush fund for international family planning reproductive health by $8.7 million," she said. "Promoting abortion in poor, developing nations, especially when those nations have pro-life laws in place right now, harms the most vulnerable and undermines the goodwill we seek to do with global health assistance."

Blinken denied that the budget request would fund abortions. "We take very seriously the proposition that … the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls are key to their health and well-being," he said. "We also take very seriously the proposition that we are not in the business of funding internationally abortion."

A State Department spokeswoman said the agency said "reproductive health" abroad is a matter of national security.

"The empowerment and protection of women and girls, including promoting their sexual and reproductive health and rights, is a central part of U.S. foreign policy and national security," the agency said in a statement. "The Administration takes [the Helms Amendment] and other related legislative restrictions very seriously and will work with partners to ensure compliance."

The White House did not respond to requests for comment on the role abortion would play in U.S. foreign policy.

The move to prioritize abortion echoes the Obama administration's policies, under which abortion providers successfully lobbied the State Department and received millions of dollars in funding. Biden's decision to repeal the Mexico City Policy, which bans giving taxpayer aid to international abortion providers, reversed the Trump administration's decision to cut off funding for the United Nations Population Fund, which has funneled millions to abortion groups worldwide. In 2017, the State Department cut off funding for the population fund because of its involvement with the Chinese government's genocide against the Muslim Uyghur minority. Congressional Democrats introduced legislation in 2019 to permanently repeal the Mexico City Policy.

*This post has been updated with comment from the State Department