A draft executive order from the Trump administration orders the federal government to stop funding any United Nations organization that promotes “the performance of abortion or sterilization as a method of family planning.”
It’s one of a number of prohibitions in the order obtained by The Daily Beast that sets up a process for reviewing all American contributions to the UN—and automatically eliminating many others. Also on the chopping block is “any United Nations affiliate or other international organization that grants full membership to the Palestinian Authority or the Palestinian Liberation Organization”; any organization “substantially influenced by any state that sponsors terrorism”; and any group circumventing sanctions against North Korea or Iran. The gist of the order was first reported by The New York Times.
The draft order, if enacted, would be a significant expansion on the so-called Global Gag Rule, which was first implemented by Ronald Reagan in 1984, overturned during every Democratic administration, and reinstated and expanded by Donald Trump this week. The Global Gag Rule only restricts usage of federal funding to organizations that do not promote (or even mention) abortion. Trump’s draft order goes further to include sterilization, a crucial medical procedure for women in a world where an estimated 300,000 women die during childbirth annually.
The United Nations Population Fund is one of several UN organizations that would receive a “special review of funding” under the draft order. UNFPA states as its aim “a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person's potential is fulfilled.” The organization fights against child marriage, female genital mutilation, and maternal death. In addition, the UNFPA has played a role in assuring that pregnant women fleeing conflict are able to safely give birth.
“The formula is: when there is a disaster, typically in any given population, women and girls of childbearing age are one quarter of the people,” Abubakar Dungus, Media and Communications Chief of the UNFPA, tells The Daily Beast. “Pregnant women usually would be 4 percent of the population of the people moving. Among pregnant women, 15 percent would have complicated deliveries and if they don't have assistance, it's possible they and their babies might die.”
During the Syrian conflict, the organization has estimated that 360,000 pregnant women were directly affected, and 80,200 pregnant Syrian women have fled to neighboring countries. Cutting aid to the UNFPA would mean pregnant refugees from all areas of conflict would have to give birth under much more dangerous circumstances than they already do.
The draft order is one of a flurry circulating in government circles in the Trump administration’s first week. Some, including an order authorizing construction on the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, have already been signed by the president. Others are drafts, like a review of detention and interrogation practices that could lead to a return to the use of waterboarding and CIA secret jails.
That draft document on interrogation turned out to be a near word-for-word copy of a document prepared by Mitt Romney’s 2012 transition team. And there’s some evidence that this order may have been recycled, too. It mentions that “in 2010, the United States gave more than $8.6 billion to various international organization,” and does not cite any figures after that date.
The draft order also calls for review of funding the International Criminal Court (ICC), an international tribunal that sits in The Hague tasked with going after perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity. While the United States has cooperated in the capture of indicted war criminals, the U.S. does not directly fund the ICC and has long resisted becoming a participant in the international court, which was formally established in 2002.
“The United States is in fact the United Nations’ largest financial supporter, providing nearly a quarter of its total revenue, and the American contribution continues to grow annually,” the draft order goes on to say. “This financial commitment is particularly burdensome given the current fiscal crisis and ballooning budget deficits and national debt. And while the United States’ contribution is enormous, the United Nations often pursues an agenda contrary to American interests.”
Of course, the UN has long been a boogeyman for the Republican Party. Perennial criticisms range from boilerplate conservatism (the organization too often functions against American interests, the UN hates Israel, etc.) to fringe conspiracy theories too often entertained by mainstream conservative figures. For instance, Trump’s GOP-primary rival Sen. Rand Paul has previously embraced the looney idea that the UN was would confiscate Americans’ handguns.
Early this month, House Republicans were preparing legislation to reduce or possibly eliminate UN funding following the UN Security Council’s vote to condemn Israeli settlements construction. Even Republican lawmakers with an anti-Trump streak, such as senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, were “all for that.”
Trump also denounced the Security Council move, and has himself gladly engaged in casual UN-bashing over the years. “The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!” Trump tweeted the day after Christmas.
During his AIPAC speech early last year, the then-Republican presidential contender went after the UN as overrun by “utter weakness and incompetence.”
"The United Nations is not a friend of democracy," Trump said on stage. "It's not a friend to freedom. It's not a friend even to the United States of America, where, as all know, it has its home. And it surely isn’t a friend to Israel."
Unsurprisingly for people familiar with Trump being on every side of a multitude of political and cultural issues over the decades, the president once had nothing but glowing praise for the UN and its mission.
"I have to start by saying I'm a big fan, a very big fan, of the United Nations and all it stands for," Trump told senators in 2005. "I can't speak as to what's been happening over the last number of years, because it certainly hasn't been good, but the concept of the United Nations and the fact that the United Nations is in New York is very important to me and very important to the world, as far as I am concerned. So I am a big fan.”