U.S. joins global anti-abortion pact as Supreme Court fight stirs fears at home

Adela Suliman

The United States on Thursday signed an anti-abortion declaration along with more than 30 countries representing over 1.6 billion people.

Overnight, women in Poland took to the streets to protest a clampdown on abortion rights in that country.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar took part in a virtual signing ceremony of the Geneva Consensus Declaration. Egypt, Uganda, Brazil, Hungary and Indonesia co-sponsored the pact along with the U.S. Thirty-two nations signed it.

The nonbinding declaration says it seeks to improve women's health, preserve human life and strengthen the family unit.

"We, the representatives of our sovereign nations do hereby declare in mutual friendship and respect, our commitment to work together to: Reaffirm that there is no international right to abortion," the declaration read.

"Under President Trump's leadership, the United States has defended the dignity of human life everywhere and always," Pompeo said in his remarks at the signing. "We've also mounted an unprecedented defense of the unborn abroad."

Abortion rouses conservative voters each election and has come to the fore in recent weeks with President Donald Trump's nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace liberal icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. Democrats have grilled her on abortion amid fears the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling could be overturned if she is confirmed.

After the Geneva Consensus Declaration signing was announced, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was "disturbed" by it and feared the U.S. actions would "undercut" the rights of millions.

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"The Geneva Consensus Declaration attempts to undermine bedrock human rights agreements and women’s health and reproductive rights here at home and around the world," Cardin said in a statement. "Fortunately, same-sex marriage and abortion remain legal in the United States."

In the Polish capital Warsaw, crowds protested after that country's Constitutional Court ruled abortion due to fetal defects was unconstitutional. Poland is now also a signatory of the Geneva Consensus Declaration.

The Polish court's decision banned one of the few remaining legal grounds available for ending a pregnancy in the largely Catholic country. Once the ruling comes into effect, it will mean abortion will only be permissible in Poland in the case of rape, incest or a threat to the mother's health and life.

"We mourn the extinguishing of Polish women's remaining sliver of access to abortion care," Irene Donadio of the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network said.

The reproductive health and rights group also condemned the Geneva Consensus Declaration as "a farcical Trump-led document with no legal basis" and said the pledge was signed by "reproductive bullies" and "regressive governments from around the world."

Image: Protestors face off with riot police guarding the house of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland's ruling Law and Justice party (PIS) during a demonstration against a decision by the Constitutional Court on abortion law restriction (Wojtek Radwanski / AFP - Getty Images)
Image: Protestors face off with riot police guarding the house of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland's ruling Law and Justice party (PIS) during a demonstration against a decision by the Constitutional Court on abortion law restriction (Wojtek Radwanski / AFP - Getty Images)

Hundreds marched toward the house of Poland's governing party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski overnight, some carrying candles and signs that read "torture."

Warsaw police said on Twitter on Friday that 15 people had been detained. Officers reacted with pepper spray and physical force after protesters threw stones and tried to push through police lines, they added.

Conservative values have played a growing role in public life in Poland since the nationalist Law and Justice party came into power five years ago on a promise to defend the nation's traditional, Catholic character.

The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said it was "a sad day" for women's rights.

"Removing the basis for almost all legal abortions in Poland amounts to a ban and violates human rights," Mijatovic said on Twitter. "Today's ruling of the Constitutional Court means underground/abroad abortions for those who can afford and even greater ordeal for all others."

Women's rights and opposition groups called for further demonstrations Friday.

Reuters contributed to this report.