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Antonio Guterres (L), secretary-general of the United Nations, with U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo. David Dee Delgado / Getty Images


Stefano Gennarini reports for C-FAM — UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says he wants to “make sure that governments do not take advantage of COVID-19 to undermine sexual and reproductive rights and to put into question the services that are provided.”

Guterres said this during a virtual townhall meeting with feminists on Monday. He was responding to a question on abortion and the Trump administration’s pro-life diplomacy.

Guterres assured feminists he will “fight” governments who “put into question services that are provided” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is clear that we are witnessing a very strong attack on all the progresses made after Beijing and in relation to sexual and reproductive health,” he said, referring to a 1995 UN conference that cemented abortion in UN policy.

“I’ve been putting this in all my interventions, and I’ve been putting this in all my policy briefs and in the country teams’ works,” he emphasized.

The feminist woman who asked the question asked specifically about abortion and the efforts of the Trump administration to keep abortion out of the UN COVID-19 response.

‘As you know, many of the attacks that women and girls, and gender non-conforming people, are facing are being amplified by this pandemic. And some governments, as you just heard, Poland and the U.S., are using this as an opportunity to further restrict access to abortion, to comprehensive sexuality education, and gender affirming treatment,” the woman, identified as
Sharron, said in the wind-up to her question.

“And we all know that the impact of these kinds of actions falls hardest on LBTI women, on black afro-descendant indigenous women, and other racial minorities, women with disabilities and others who face social marginalization,” she emphasized.

“What are you doing to coordinate systemic responses to some of these issues. And how can the UN and your office in particular protect access not just to services, but protection of these critical rights?” she asked.

Guterres emphasized his reports and actions to promote sexual and reproductive health, and abortion specifically, as essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. It should be pointed out that no UN document gives the Secretary General or any other UN body the right to promote abortion for any reason.

Reports of UN efforts to use the COVID-19 pandemic to promote abortion both in general and by putting pressure of specific countries prompted Acting Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development John Barsa to write a letter to the UN Secretary General urging him to stop promoting abortion. Guterres reportedly responded saying that the UN system does not interfere in abortion politics.

In August, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Andrew Bremberg, wrote to a group of UN human rights experts to complain that they tried to interfere in U.S. abortion politics during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his responses, Guterres underlined how the COVID-19 pandemic should be used as an opportunity to promote LGBTI rights and abortion.

“We need to do all the measures to respond to COVID and to respond to the economic and social impacts of COVID as an opportunity to fight discrimination and to pushback against this terrible pushback that we are witnessing in which discrimination is indeed increasing and in which basic rights, namely sexual and reproductive rights, are being put into question,” he said.

Echoing feminist talking points the he has used before, he explained, “the central question is a redistribution of power.”

Categories: United Nations