At the UN, Nikki Haley Let Abortion Zealots Run Wild

By Published on January 12, 2024

Nikki Haley often brandishes her pro-life credentials to conservatives and pro-lifers at home. But her pro-life record as UN ambassador leaves something to be desired. She was slow to take up pro-life priorities internationally, she made several blunders, and left the United Nations without making much of an impact for the pro-life cause.

It was always clear that Haley’s tenure at the UN was just a stepping stone to create foreign policy credentials in anticipation of a presidential run. But her pro-life image also left movement pro-lifers with great expectations. But pro-life NGOs and political appointees in other parts of the Trump administration were in for a big disappointment. They tried in vain to get Haley to engage.

Why was her pro-life engagement at the UN was so cautious and, at times, even reticent? Her limited knowledge of the multilateral scene and sabotage by career diplomats undoubtedly had a role to play. But you’d need to have blinders on to miss the abortion debate at the UN. It is always present. There is no issue as controversial and endlessly debated at the UN than the effort by the sexual left to establish a global right to abortion, usually through coded language like “reproductive health.”

She Never Defended U.S. Pro-Life Policy. Not Once.

She never defended U.S. pro-life policy publicly. Not once. Even though it was constantly under attack. In her many fiery speeches against the UN and human rights abusers she never once mentioned the overreach of the UN system on abortion, even though UN abortion promotion is widespread and brazen.

Pro-lifers working at the UN had to convince Haley’s staff that fighting abortion-related terms like “sexual and reproductive health” was necessary every time it came up. Her staff began from the position that such terms were harmless and there was no need to oppose them in UN negotiations. Haley and her team trusted the bad advice of career service diplomats and were reluctant to upset European allies who are driving the pro-abortion agenda.

Eventually, Haley did the right thing, but it wasn’t until her very last month at the UN General Assembly. While her team did challenge abortion language with amendments, they didn’t put diplomatic muscle behind it to garner support from like-minded countries. The pro-life positions the U.S. proposed were ineffective, inconsistent, and absent assistance from U.S. State Department channels to ensure success.

She Never Even Had Pro-Life Talking Points

In all this, Haley never showed pro-life initiative of her own. She passively awaited instructions from Washington D.C., or reacted to situations as organizations such as our own made her staff aware. But she did not have her own pro-life agenda to promote internationally. She never even had pro-life talking points.

Haley repeatedly turned down the possibility of hosting a U.S. sponsored pro-life event at the UN, even though she hosted other types of events, including on free speech. But it’s worse than that. Haley showed a lack of conviction and fighting spirit when pushed on the abortion issue.

Haley never showed pro-life initiative of her own. She passively awaited instructions.

When European governments and feminists at the United Nations headquarters noisily launched a global campaign against the U.S. government for Trump’s expanded Mexico City Policy — forbidding U.S. money from supporting abortion overseas — Haley stayed mum. Delegations, mostly European, delivered statement after statement with open and veiled attacks against the U.S. government, the sitting U.S. president and the American People who elected him. Haley failed to defend the pro-life position of the administration which she served, even when she shared the room with diplomats expressing their governments pro-abortion views.

Haley also showed that she is more likely to back down from a pro-life fight than engage to win.

The Smell of the D.C. Swamp

In her first weeks at the United Nations, Haley approved the recommendation of her pro-life staff to nominate two conservative pro-life women as public delegates to the UN Commission on the Status of Women in March 2017, Lisa Correnti of C-Fam and Grace Melton of the Heritage Foundation. The two women came under vicious attack from the sexual left from around the world. The intimidation tactic succeeded far too easily. Rather than defend the women she nominated, Haley remained silent, limited their access in negotiations, and never again publicly worked with pro-life groups at the UN.

From the very beginning, Haley showed both a tendency to swampiness and an almost complete lack of situational awareness. Her staff were dependent and trusting of the career State Department bureaucracy, many of whom were in opposition to President Trump’s international pro-life policies. It took two valuable years for our organization to convince Haley’s people that something was amiss. One of these career employees, with over ten years of negotiating experience, eventually left and was later suspected of leaking the U.S. pro-life position. Even so, Haley trusted State Department career personnel, including the State Department officials she left in charge when she abruptly left in 2018.

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Haley was almost totally unaware of the state of pro-life negotiations at the UN. Her office allowed something called the Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) to be endorsed in a UN resolution on humanitarian assistance. The MISP is a UN agency manual on reproductive health which lists abortion as a human right. Among other outrages, the manual says that health providers in humanitarian emergencies must refer women for abortions even if the health care provider conscientiously object to performing abortions. Haley’s team only took on the fight under pressure from pro-life groups.

To successfully promote pro-life policy at the UN requires boldness. It’s not a job for the meek. It requires a leader that is truly convicted to preserving human life. Haley’s actions did not demonstrate such a conviction.

Did Nikki Haley learn how to be pro-life during her UN tenure? Does she now have the backbone needed to ensure a pro-life ethos throughout the US government including in foreign policy? Will pro-life Americans give her the White House without a clear plan on how she will champion the life of the unborn here and abroad? Her record at the UN is not good.


Austin Ruse is president of C-Fam (Center for Family & Human Rights), a New York and Washington DC-based research institute in Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council.

Stefano Gennarini is an attorney and head of C-Fam’s Center for Legal Studies. He closely advises UN delegation during negotiations.

 These views are their own and do not reflect official policy of C-Fam, a 501c3 charity.

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