The sexual health and reproductive rights of women all around the world are at risk. Every year, 25 million unsafe abortions are performed, there are two million new HIV infections, and nearly 266,000 women die from cervical cancer. Recently, The Guttmacher-Lancet Commission released a report on accelerating the progress for sexual health and reproductive rights globally. This report takes a bold step forward in finishing the previously incomplete sexual and reproductive health agenda and suggests an evidence-based path forward that is grounded in the security, the dignity, and rights of women and men. One area that the report hones in on, which has stalled the progress of equality in sexual health, is the scarcity of funding for health efforts. All governments who have signed onto the Sustainable Development Goals have agreed to advance universal healthcare for all. Yet, this goal of universal health care and sexual and reproductive health has been very difficult to achieve and governments like the United States have recently made active efforts to undo the progress that has been made. As the largest global health funder, decisions that the United States government make have far reaching consequences. In his first day in office, President Trump repealed the Mexico City Policy, and later in May 2017, Vice President Pence instituted a plan called Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance which makes this repeal of the Mexico City Policy much more restrictive than in the past. It is estimated that this decision removes $8.8 billion dollars of sexual and reproductive health funding for the global aid sphere. President Trump’s narrow focus on anti-abortion policies has far reaching consequences for all aspects of sexual and reproductive health. This act stands alone in a landscape that is moving towards a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health agenda that is based in bodily autonomy and human rights. The Guttmacher-Lancet report puts forth a new definition of sexual and reproductive health acknowledges that all individuals have a right to:
  • have their bodily integrity, privacy and personal autonomy respected
  • freely define their own sexuality, including sexual orientation and gender identity and expression
  • decide whether and when to be sexually active
  • choose their sexual partners
  • have safe and pleasurable sexual experiences
  • decide whether, when and whom to marry
  • decide whether, when and by what means to have a child or children, and how many children to have
  • have access over their lifetimes to the information, resources, services and support necessary to achieve all the above, free from discrimination, coercion, exploitation and violence
Specifically, the last two points are most impacted by the United State’s reduction of funding for sexual and reproductive health. Among the many suggestions that the report gives as a path forward, one of the most important is to “secure sustainable domestic and international financing to achieve full access to the essential sexual and reproductive health package.” Despite what the current political situation is in the United States, the success of a comprehensive sexual and reproductive rights agenda must be based in funding that supports all aspects of reproductive health, regardless of individual moral leanings. At a recent closed-door meeting at the UN, representatives of the Trump Administration pushed back on efforts to expand global sexual and reproductive health by pushing abstinence-only ideologies. Not only is this new policy of abstinence-only funding on a global scale ignorant of comprehensive and holistic trend in sexual and reproductive health, it is incredibly dangerous. This reduction of funding endangers sexually active women of reproductive age globally and increases the likelihood of STI infections, of which there are already 350 million men and women globally who need treatment. As a member of the SDG community and the largest global health funder in the world, the United States has a responsibility to step up to the plate. Our lives depend on it. UN Photo by Martine Perret  

Coby Jones
Coby Jones is a Diplomatic Courier contributor focused on gender justice and equality.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.