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The Lilith Blog 1 of 2

February 4, 2020 By Rori Kramer

The Foreign Policy Message We Should (But Won’t) Hear from the President

As we prepare to watch President Trump’s election-year State of the Union Address, we can predict one certainty from this unusually vocal president: Once again, he will not utter a single word supporting human rights around the world. For three years, this administration has dismantled America’s moral leadership on human rights—after decades of global bipartisan courage. 

Together, President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo have gone to extreme lengths to destroy nearly all protections for the most vulnerable communities. They have deliberately created policies harmful to the sexual health and rights of women, girls and LGBTQI+ communities, who often live at the margins of their societies.  

The global gag rule is a perfect example of the decline in American moral values. This draconian policy, reinstated and greatly expanded by the Trump administration, prohibits foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that receive U.S. global health assistance from providing legal abortion services or referrals. It also bars these groups from advocating for abortion law reform in their countries.  

NGOs around the world now face a predicament: comply and fail to provide comprehensive healthcare services or lose access to U.S. funding. For smaller NGOs, losing the funding might mean shutting down entirely.  

These clinics and organizations are crucial to the health and lives of women, girls and LGBTQI+ people in their communities around the globe. When clinics close or severely scale back their work, people have nowhere to turn for a variety of crucial health services–including services for HIV, TB and malaria. And often, these clinics are the only places for hundreds of miles serving people at risk, such as LGBTQI+ people.  

What’s more, the administration cleverly uses bureaucratic sleight of hand to reverse human rights protections that have been integral to foreign policy for years. At the State Department, for example, political leaders demanded that annual human rights reports remove all references to reproductive rights. They prohibited embassies from flying Pride flags during Pride Month, a reverse of years of support to activists. The President and his inner circle also ensure that nominees for key positions at the State Department and United Nations show open hostility to the sexual health and rights of women, girls and LGBTQI+ people; most want to ban reproductive and transgender rights altogether.  

Tragically, this administration has also pressed this approach in international forums, prioritizing the erasure of sexual health and rights language from international documents. At the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development in Nairobi, Kenya, the U.S. built a coalition of like-minded countries–with countries that regularly attack human rights, including Hungary, Libya and Brazil–to export hate and discrimination by cutting off basic access to reproductive rights. As they continue the attacks in these settings, this U.S. administration also continues to scrub the term “gender” from international agreements, changing global norms in the process.  

In justifying such attacks, the Trump administration callously uses “religious freedom” as a cudgel to deny rights to women, girls and LGBTQI+ communities. The State Department’s first Religious Ministerial in 2018 was far from a celebration of the right to celebrate different religions; it was a gathering with anti-reproductive rights and anti-LGBTQI+ rhetoric at the center of its agenda.

Now the administration has redoubled this effort with the establishment of the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights–a group comprised of academics hostile to LGBTQI+ and reproductive rights, brought together by Secretary Pompeo with a goal of elevating “religious freedom” and de-legitimizing human rights for everyone not like them–in particular women, girls and LGBTQI+ people. 

As someone who works at a faith-based organization that believes in the inherent dignity of all people, I am horrified by the administration’s use of supposed moral religious beliefs to establish that some people’s rights are more important than others.   

Vulnerable people around the world are more at risk than ever before, and this president is partly responsible. We must ensure that future State of the Union speeches¾and U.S. foreign policy–put a priority on Americans’ obligation to promote human rights around the globe.  

Rori Kramer is the Director of Government Affairs at American Jewish World Service. She previously served as a senior official at the State Department and as a senior foreign policy staffer in the Senate.   

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.