Pink-clad feminists ready to disrupt a second day of Senate confirmation hearings were ejected before Rex Tillerson’s testimony began. But that didn’t stop Senator Jeanne Shaheen from pressing President-elect Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State on his reproductive rights agenda.
“Will you pledge to continue to prioritize quality family planning and reproductive health services for women worldwide and ensure that resources and access to these programs are not conflated with support for abortion,” asked the New Hampshire Democrat senator.
The scene was just one episode in the showdown in Washington over President Obama’s legacy on abortion rights.
Shaheen tried to get the incoming Secretary of State to commit to keeping the growing bureaucracy based on gender identity politics at the State Department.
Tillerson affirmed his commitment to economic empowerment for women, providing personal accounts of women changing the cycles of poverty for their children through small business ventures in their local villages and communities.
Unsatisfied, Shaheen pressed on, asking if the nominee would pledge to include sexual and reproductive health services as a policy priority.
Tillerson said he believed current funding for family planning was half a billion dollars annually and that he would need to examine the programs.
Shaheen used her remaining time to cite refuted statistics on unmet need for family planning invoked by groups vying to get more funding for family planning programs. Under the Obama administration, more than $5 billion was appropriated to family planning through the global health initiatives. The figure is specific to USAID and does not account for family planning funded through other State Department bureaus or for contraceptive funding programs through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)–previously limited to condoms.
Senator Shaheen became the highest ranking woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with Barbara Boxer’s retirement in December. Shaheen seeks to institutionalize the gender equality agenda spearheaded by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton through legislation.
Clinton restructured the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department to promulgate gender integration through all U.S. development and diplomatic programs. Clinton established the Office of Global Women’s Issues, the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, and a Global Office for Gender Equality and Women Empowerment—all without legislative approval. Their mandates give wide latitude to the offices to interpret “empowerment” and “equality” to create programs, including abortion on demand.
The State Department issued policy directives on gender-based violence and women in conflict to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and abortion rights in traditional countries. This led to a backlash against the U.S. by countries and communities who felt foreign values were imposed upon them.
The State Department Authorization bill that passed the Senate last month came close to enshrining Clinton and Obama gender policies in law, but the House amended it to remove the Global Strategy on the Prevention of Gender Based Violence which contains those policies.
Democrats expressed alarm last month when the Trump transition team requested the State Department and USAID to provide a list of “existing programs and activities to promote gender equality” and the funding for 2016 for these programs.
President-elect Trump has an opportunity to repeal a hallmark of Obama’s abortion legacy on his first day in office if he follows his Republican predecessors and re-institutes the Mexico City policy. The 1984 policy bans funding to international organizations that perform or promote abortion. President G. W. Bush expanded it beyond USAID global health initiatives, applying it to State department grants and contracts that Democrats wielded again under Obama.
Lisa Correnti writes for C-FAM, a UN watchdog group.