SECRETARY AZAR: Thank you very much, Valerie. And because we’re socially distanced today, I and other speakers will be removing our face coverings while we are here at the podium.
Fellow ministers and distinguished guests, it is both a privilege and a high point of my tenure as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to co-host today’s virtual signing of the Geneva Consensus Declaration. I am honored to be joined in marking this important occasion by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and together we bring greetings and appreciation from President Trump, who has praised this initiative on numerous occasions and repeatedly fought for its ideals in global fora. We wish we could be together in person to celebrate this historic achievement, but we’re grateful for your participation virtually. As today’s gathering reflects, even during COVID-19, we can find safe and creative ways to keep our important work moving forward.
In signing the declaration today, the United States is honored to stand alongside Brazil, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, and Uganda – the cross-regional co-sponsors for the declaration. We’re humbled by the support of the 32 nations who today are signing the declaration.
Today is not the last chance that nations have to sign on to this document. We invite other countries to join this effort in the coming months and years. I hope you will also join us next year for the Global Women’s Health Summit, where we will forge a new path forward to improve the lives of women across the globe. The same goals that underpin today’s ceremonial signing of that will inform the work of that summit.
The Geneva Consensus Declaration is an historic document stating clearly where we as nations stand on women’s health, the family, honoring life, and defending national sovereignty. The declaration is much more than a statement of beliefs; it is a critical and useful tool to defend these principles across all United Nations bodies and at every multilateral setting using language previously agreed to by member-states of those bodies.
I want to briefly recount how far we have come in getting to this point. Our growing partnership began about a year and a half ago when, thanks to the leadership of Garrett Grigsby and Valerie Huber, who I am privileged to work with here at HHS, and our colleagues at the State Department, nine countries came together on a joint statement at the 2019 World Health Assembly in Geneva to rally around these priorities.
Later that fall at the UN General Assembly, 21 countries communicated their support in another joint statement for, quote, “programs to improve the health, life, dignity, and well-being of women, men, children, and families,” and asked that, quote, “the UN, including UN agencies, focus on concrete efforts that enjoy broad consensus among member-states,” rather than introducing concepts for which there will never be consensus.
These statements brought badly needed attention to a disturbing trend. With increasing frequency, some rich nations and UN agencies beholden to them are wrongly asserting abortion as a universal human right. These efforts pressure countries to institute progressive abortion laws or risk losing global funding or standing in international fora. Tragically, women around the world unnecessarily suffer health challenges – all too often deadly health challenges – while too many wealthy nations and international institutions put a myopic focus on a radical agenda that is offensive to many cultures and derails agreement of women’s health priorities.
Today we put down a clear marker. No longer can UN agencies reinterpret and misinterpret agreed-upon language without accountability. Member-states set the policy for the UN to pursue, not the other way around. Without apology, we affirm that governments have the sovereign right to make their own laws to protect innocent life and write their regulations on abortion. The stakes are too high to permit radical, divisive agendas to hinder the ability of women in countries at all stages of development to attain better health. Today’s Geneva Consensus Declaration builds upon last year’s joint statements for formalizing our work together to defend these critical values. Our coalition will hold multilateral organizations accountable.
We will denounce these organizations when they overstep their mandates by promoting positions that can never gain consensus. We will unequivocally declare that there is no international right to abortion. We will proudly put women’s health first at every stage of life.
This declaration agreed to by a coalition representing every region on Earth and more than 1.6 billion human beings is a new and powerful tool in this noble and lifesaving effort. Countries represented today are diverse in geography, size, culture, religion, and ethnicity. We are bound in a powerful way by our common goals. Today we commit to work together until we accomplish each of our shared goals – for women and girls, for families, for life in all stages of development, and the sovereignty of each of our nations.
It’s difficult to win these battles alone, but together we are stronger, and together we can deliver for women, girls, and all the nations and peoples we represent.
It’s now my tremendous pleasure to introduce the Secretary of State for the United States, my good friend Mike Pompeo, a key leader and ally on all of these efforts, to offer some remarks. Thank you, Secretary Pompeo, for being here, and thank you for leading these historic efforts.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, good morning, everyone.
It’s an incredible privilege to be here today to co-host along with my good friend Secretary Alex Azar. Alex and I both share a deep and very personal commitment to protect human dignity. Our agencies have worked tirelessly together. I want to thank Assistant Secretary Pam Pryor and the HHS team for their remarkable work.
This is a culmination of lots of hard work – a chance to celebrate, too, for these joint efforts.
Secretary Azar opened these – this ceremony with some background on what we’ve accomplished prior to this point.
It’s true what he said: Under President Trump’s leadership, the United States has defended the dignity of human life everywhere and always. He has done it like no other president in history. We’ve mounted an unprecedented defense of the unborn abroad.
In front of world leaders at the 2019 United Nations General Assembly, President Trump said, quote, “We in America believe that every child – born and unborn – is a sacred gift from God.”
During our administration, U.S. taxpayer dollars will never go to foreign nongovernmental organizations that perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning.
We are also at the State Department fully applying the law prohibiting the use of department funds to lobby on abortion.
Last year, Secretary Azar and I sent a letter to likeminded nations asking for their support in advancing human dignity on the world stage.
The result of that was that we delivered 20 of them to prepare a joint statement to decry pro-abortion language in UN documents. Together, these nations said clearly there simply is no international right to abortion.
Today, we’re taking the next step, as we sign the Geneva Consensus Declaration. At its very core, the declaration protects women’s health, defends the unborn, and reiterates the vital importance of the family as the foundation of society.
The declaration restates that “there is no international right to an abortion.” It goes even further, affirming that every country has its own sovereign right to determine its own laws with respect to abortion. We say clearly, quote, “There is no international obligation on the part of states to finance or facilitate abortion.” End of quote.
But perhaps most importantly – perhaps most importantly, the declaration reaffirms “the inherent dignity and worth” of every human being by emphasizing that every human being has the fundamental right to human life. Indeed, this is what the American founders knew so clearly. It’s what we’re upholding here today, that legacy.
It’s historic to be here. It’s the first time that a multilateral coalition has been built around the issue of defending life.
Some 32 nations have now signed this document, five of them co-sponsoring with the United States: Brazil, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, and Uganda. Together, we represent every major region of the world.
It’s a group of countries that respects life, and the U.S. is proud to stand with each and every one of them.
By signing this declaration today, we’re doing more than just signing on, agreeing on the importance of these issues. We are making a commitment to work together at the United Nations and in other international settings to achieve tangible results. I am confident that we will.
I’m truly proud of the work that our teams have done, the multilateral backing that we’ve achieved, and the momentum that we have built.
And as we sign this very explicit declaration today, may its moral clarity embolden others to admire our stand and, indeed, to join our cause.
And now, Secretary Azar, back over to you to introduce our co-sponsors today.
SECRETARY AZAR: Thank you, Secretary Pompeo. Today’s event is the most significant to date of countries coming together to stand up for the health of women and families, to champion protecting life at all stages, and to defend national sovereignty when it comes to enacting laws on these critical issues. And it’s significant for another important reason: the broad co-sponsorship of the declaration and today’s event by countries spanning all the major regions of the world.
Over the past months, it’s been an honor to work with Brazil, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, and Uganda at various events related to these issues of great consequence. Today’s shared leadership demonstrates a new level of commitment for our respective governments. It also demonstrates our combined strength and resolve.
I’m so gratified that senior leaders from the five co-sponsoring countries are with us right now virtually. I’m also very pleased that ministers from each of these countries submitted a prerecorded message detailing why today is important and how the declaration’s tenets fit squarely within the policy priorities for their countries.
Representing Brazil are Ambassador Ernesto Araujo, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and her Excellency Damares Alves, Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights.
Representing Egypt is Her Excellency Hala Zayed, Minister of Health and Population.
Representing Hungary is Her Excellency Katalin Novak, Minister for Family.
Representing Indonesia is His Excellency Terawan, Minister of Health.
And representing Uganda is the Honorable Jane Ruth Aceng, Minister for Health.
Please listen carefully to these messages from our colleagues. They have an important story to tell.
(Video was played.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: And now for the highlight of today’s gathering, the ceremonial signing of the Geneva Consensus Declaration.
On October 22, 2020, this coalition of nations commits to stand together to support the improvement of women’s health, the family as a foundational – as foundational to every strong society, the protection of life, and the sovereign right of every nation to make their own laws governing abortion.
Further, we commit to working together until UN agencies work exclusively within their mandates, and all nations prioritize the pillars of this declaration.
And now, Secretary Azar will read the Geneva Consensus Declaration in full.
SECRETARY AZAR: We will now read the Geneva Consensus Declaration.
On promoting women’s health and strengthening the family, we, ministers and high representatives of governments, having intended to gather on the margins of the 2020 World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland to review progress made and challenges to uphold the right to the highest attainable standards of health for women, to promote women’s essential contribution to health and strength of the family and of a successful and flourishing society, and to express the essential priority of protecting the right to life, committing to coordinated efforts in multilateral fora. Despite our inability to meet in Geneva due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, in solidarity, we:
One, reaffirm all are equal before the law and human rights of women are an inalienable, integral, and indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Two, emphasize the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil liberties and political rights as well as economic, social, and cultural rights, and equal rights opportunities and access to resources and equal sharing of responsibilities for the family by men and women, and a harmonious partnership between them are critical to their well-being and that of their families, and that women and girls must enjoy equal access to quality education, economic resources, and political participation as well as equal opportunities with men and boys for employment, leadership, and decision making at all levels.
Three, reaffirm the inherent dignity and worth of the human person, that every human being has the inherent right to life, and the commitment to enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant.
Four, emphasize that in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning and that any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level, according to the national legislative process; reaffirm that the child needs special safeguards and care before as well as after birth, and special measures of protection and assistance should be taken on behalf of all children based on the principle of the best interest of the child.
Five, reaffirm that the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state, that motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance, that women play a critical role in the family and women’s contribution to the welfare of the family and to the development of society.
Six, recognize that universal health coverage is fundamental for achieving the sustainable development goals related not only to health and well-being, with further recognition that health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, that the predominant focus of healthcare systems on treating illness rather than maintaining optimal health also prevents a holistic approach, and that there are needs that exist at different stages in an individual’s lifespan, which together support optimal health across the life course, entailing the provision of the necessary information, skills, and care for achieving the best possible health outcomes and reaching full human potential.
And seven, reaffirm the importance of national ownership and the primary role and responsibility of governments at all levels to determine their own path towards achieving universal health coverage in accordance with national context and priorities, preserving human dignity and all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Furthermore, we the representatives of our sovereign nations do hereby declare a mutual friendship and respect, our commitment to work together to: ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights and equal opportunity for women at all levels of political, economic, and public life; improve and secure access to health and development gains for women, including sexual and reproductive health, which must always promote optimal health, the highest obtainable standard of health, without including abortion; reaffirm that there was no international right to abortion or any international obligation on the part of states to finance or facilitate abortion consistent with the longstanding international consensus that each nation has the sovereign right to implement programs and activities consistent with their laws and policies; build our health system capacity and mobilize resources to implement health and development programs that address the needs of women and children in situations of vulnerability and advance universal health coverage; advance supportive public health policies for women and girls as well as families, including building our healthcare capacity and mobilizing resources within our own countries, bilaterally and in multilateral fora; support the role of the family as foundational to society and as a source of health, support, and care; and engage across the UN system to realize these universal values, recognizing that individually we are strong but together we are stronger.
That concludes the declaration. Secretary Pompeo will now introduce the co-signing countries.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Finally, I’d like to recognize the 31 co-signing countries who have joined with us. This coalition is, indeed, stronger together and the United States is proud to stand with each and every one of you. Thank you all for your commitment to this noble cause.
MS HUBER: And I am pleased and honored to read the names of those co-sponsoring countries: The Kingdom of Bahrain; the Republic of Belarus; the Republic of Benin; Federative Republic of Brazil; Burkina Faso; Republic of Cameroon; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Republic of the Congo; Republic of Djibouti; Arab Republic of Egypt; Kingdom of Eswatini; Republic of The Gambia; Republic of Haiti; Hungary; Republic of Indonesia; Republic of Iraq; Republic of Kenya; Republic – excuse me, the State of Kuwait; the State of Libya; the Republic of Nauru; the Republic of Niger; the Sultanate of Oman; Islamic Republic of Pakistan; Republic of Poland; Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Republic of Senegal; Republic of South Sudan; Republic of Sudan; Republic of Uganda; United Arab Emirates; the United States of America; and the Republic of Zambia.
We also invited co-signing countries to submit brief recorded statements, statements of support for the Geneva Consensus Declaration. Many did. The senior rank of these government officials communicates the importance of this declaration to these co-signing countries. I am honored and pleased to introduce senior officials from the following co-signing countries, many of whom are also virtually with us today.
Representing the Republic of Belarus, His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Representing the Republic of Haiti, His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Representing the State of Libya, His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Representing the Republic of Poland, His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Representing the Republic of Cameroon, Her Excellency the Minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family.
Representing the Arab Republic of Egypt, Her Excellency the Minister of Health and Population.
Representing Hungary, Her Excellency the Minister for Family.
Representing the Republic of Indonesia, His Excellency the Minister of Health.
Representing the Republic of Nauru, the Honorable Minister of Health.
Representing the Republic of Niger, Her Excellency the Minister for the Advancement of Women and Child Protection.
Representing the Sultanate of Oman, His Excellency the Minister of Health.
Representing the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Honorable Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health.
Representing the Democratic Republic of the Congo, His Excellency the Ambassador to the United States.
Representing the Republic of Djibouti, His Excellency the Dual-Hatted Ambassador to the United States and Ambassador to the United Nations.
Representing the Republic of Iraq, His Excellency the Ambassador to the United States.
Representing the Republic of Zambia, His Excellency the Ambassador to the United States.
Representing the Kingdom of Bahrain, His Excellency the Assistant Foreign Minister.
Representing the Federative Republic of Brazil, the Honorable National Secretary of Family and the Honorable National Secretary of Policies for Women.
Representing the State of Kuwait, Her Excellency the Director of International Health Relations in the Ministry of Health.
Special thanks to these 19 governments for these statements.
(Video was played.)
MS HUBER: What a powerful and impressive message from these many co-signing nations. Thank you, ministers, ambassadors, and other senior officials, for so clearly communicating the significance of today’s virtual gathering. Many thanks to all the governments who co-signed the Geneva Consensus Declaration. We are honored to stand alongside you.
My sincere thanks to the co-sponsors of today’s historic event – Brazil, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Uganda – and of course, our leadership with the United States Government – President Trump, Secretary Azar, and Secretary Pompeo. And special thanks to all of you who joined for today’s virtual ceremonial signing of the Geneva Consensus Declaration, whether you represent a government or are from one of the many NGOs who care so much about the pillars enshrined in this declaration. Knowing the time zone differences and how busy your schedules are, your attendance is indeed humbling, and it’s a powerful reminder of your commitment to these important goals.
The Geneva Consensus Declaration is not the end of this effort but a key milestone in the journey that will generate more support across the world. We invite other countries to join, so the declaration will remain open for additional co-signers. And I look forward to seeing all of you, hopefully in person, next year in Geneva as we gather for the Global Women’s Health Summit.
And so we will end today’s gathering as it began, by again playing the short video that reminds us what brought us together in solidarity for the health of our civilizations, our nations, our families, and all of our children, because they are all dependent upon the health of our women and our girls.
But before we play that video, I want you to know that the Trump administration commits that with your help we will continue to build this international coalition, because each of us is strong but together we are stronger.
Thank you for your support, your partnership, and participation, and God bless you all.
(Video was played.)