Why Did the Trump Administration Oppose a Global Breastfeeding Initiative?

Government delegates thought the resolution would pass without a hitch before U.S. officials reportedly threatened at least one country with sanctions if they didn't remove pro-breastfeeding language.

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Jul 9 2018, 5:14pm

Maresa Smith/Stocksy

The Trump administration reportedly sought to undermine a global health initiative during a World Health Assembly this past spring, where officials representing the United States vehemently opposed an international resolution promoting breastfeeding.

Government delegates expected the resolution to pass without a hitch until the U.S. officials asked that wording calling on international governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” be stricken from the document, according to a New York Times report. When representatives from other government delegations didn't comply with their request, the Trump administration officials reportedly "turned to threats," telling Ecuadorean representatives that if they didn't scrub the language, the U.S. would impose sanctions on trade and pull out military support.

The move reportedly shocked global health advocates, who perceived the U.S. to be disputing decades of scientific research supporting the benefits of breastfeeding.

"We were astonished, appalled, and also saddened,” Patti Rundall, the policy director of Baby Milk Action, an advocacy group promoting breastfeeding, told the Times. “What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on the best way to protect infant and young child health."

When reached for comment, a spokesperson from the World Health Organization told Broadly that WHO was "not in a position to comment on exchanges between different delegations," but still "recommends breastmilk as the best source of nourishment for infants and young children."

The reason U.S. officials fought for pro-breastfeeding language to be removed may have little to do the Trump administration's stance on breastfeeding itself, and more to do with protecting corporate interests, a well-established object of Trump's presidency. The resolution also called on international governments to fight misinformation about breastfeeding alternatives, like baby food, a multi-billion dollar industry.

Whatever the rationale, this isn't the first time the U.S. opposed a global initiative for women's health under President Donald Trump.

One of the first executive orders Trump signed after taking office reinstated the global gag rule, a policy that prohibits the U.S. government from providing funds to any international organizations that provide abortions, or even mention abortion as an option to women they serve. Reproductive health advocates have said that, without U.S. funding, many clinics will have to cut back on services or even shut down, leaving millions of women worldwide without care. Left without options and faced with an unintended pregnancy, many of them will take matters into their own hands and die of self-induced abortions.

Months later, Trump led the country in withdrawing from the United Nations Population Fund, a global maternal health fund, because of its stance on abortion. The fund serves women and children in 150 countries, increasing access to contraception and maternal care and fighting to end gender-based violence, female genital mutilation and child marriage.

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"We have always valued the United States as a trusted partner and leader in helping to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe, and every young person's potential is fulfilled," UNFPA's statement read at the time. "We, therefore, look forward to continuing our work with the United States to address these global concerns and to restore our strong partnership to save the lives of women and girls globally."

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