Abortion in the WPS Agenda: Is it time?

By Hannah Proctor, Research Fellow, WIIS Global

September 9, 2019

The Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda was created with the intention of acknowledging and counteracting the disproportionate effects of conflict on women and girls. This has resulted in an emphasis on the need to protect women and girls from suffering those effects, especially those of conflict-related sexual violence.

In April 2019, Germany proposed a new WPS resolution that renegotiated the terms of protectionism by taking a survivor-centered approach. The original language of UNSCR 2467 focused on the needs of survivors of sexual violence in conflict, both physical and psychological. It guaranteed the right to sexual and reproductive healthcare. The inclusion of that language was not unprecedented, having been included in three previous resolutions (1889 (2009), 2106 (2013), & 2122 (2013)), but the resolution took the most holistic approach to conflict-related healthcare.

While UNSCR 2467 made no direct mention of abortion, the U.S. threatened to veto the resolution if it ensured access to reproductive and sexual healthcare. For the U.S., this language implied that women would have access to abortion services. By threatening a veto, the U.S. forced Germany to rewrite the resolution to accommodate the U.S.’s conservative stance on abortion. The Trump Administration’s stance also brought abortion front and center into the WPS conversation.

Throughout the almost 20-year history of the WPS Agenda, abortion has never been directly mentioned. Members of the WPS community in the U.S. have been wary of its inclusion because abortion is such a divisive topic in the U.S. Abortion is not as polarizing in other countries, though, as indicated by the adoption of She Decides, an international response to the Trump Administration’s Global Gag Rule. The Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen, created the organization and explained the motivation behind She Decides by saying:

“You would expect in 2017 the rights of women and girls to be the masters of their own bodies and their own sexual lives would be something matter-of-fact.”

Despite overwhelming international support for reproductive rights, the Trump Administration has made it clear that the U.S. will veto any resolution that guarantees reproductive and sexual healthcare. This creates a challenging situation going into 2020.

The Security Council will likely adopt a new WPS resolution in 2020 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the first WPS resolution, UNSCR 1325 (2000). Knowing that any resolution adopted in 2020 will have to abide by the U.S.’s conservative stance on abortion rights, the Security Council must make a decision of whether a new resolution will be more beneficial than harmful.

The way I see it, there are three options going forward: (1) not adopt a resolution and wait out the Trump Administration; (2) draft a new resolution that explicitly includes abortion to call out the Trump Administration; or (3) find compromise language that accommodates all parties.

Given the upcoming November 2020 U.S. election cycle, it is possible that the Trump Administration will not be re-elected. With that possibility, the Security Council could wait and adopt a new WPS resolution once President Trump is out of office.

Although abortion will still be a polarizing issue in the U.S. even after the exit of the Trump Administration, it is likely that the next administration will be supportive of a WPS resolution that includes reproductive rights. This is especially true considering the three resolutions that were previously passed with U.S. support and included language of reproductive healthcare.

The second option is for states in the Security Council to call out the Trump Administration’s conservative policies by trying to pass a WPS resolution knowing the U.S. will veto it. This option may be effective in that abortion is not contentious throughout the rest of the Western world, as evidenced by the widespread support of She Decides.

According to Minister Ploumen, the only reason certain states did not participate in She Decides was to remain “sensitive” to their relationship with the U.S. This indicates a willingness among most of the states in the Security Council to concretely guarantee those rights in a WPS resolution.

Additionally, as of 2016, 27 of the 56 published National Action Plans (NAPs) included reference to reproductive healthcare and rights. The codification of these rights in individual NAPs means that many nations are already including abortion in their understandings of the WPS Agenda.

The third and final option is to find language that compromises between the two positions. This is challenging, though, considering the supposed compromise of reproductive and sexual healthcare, without the direct inclusion of the word ‘abortion’, already caused the threat of a U.S. veto. It, therefore, becomes difficult to imagine a phrase that is compromising without simply giving into U.S. demands altogether.

Based on my analysis of these three options, I believe the second option, to force the Trump Administration’s hand, would be the most effective. With UNSCR 2467, the U.S. had to threaten a veto to get the unwanted language removed; but, forcing the U.S. to actually veto takes a much more active approach toward the Trump Administration’s outdated policies.

There is a substantial difference between threatening a veto and carrying out a veto, especially on the WPS Agenda, which has such consistent and world-wide support. A U.S. veto would likely attract widespread condemnation.

While this is not a fool-proof solution, I believe calling out the Trump Administration will have the best long-term impact on guaranteeing reproductive and sexual rights. Germany took the right approach in its efforts to focus on the survivors of sexual violence in conflict. The WPS Agenda must continue to strive for this perspective in subsequent resolutions, and that means including the right to access all reproductive healthcare, including safe abortion.

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