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GOP lawmakers argue pandemic treaty threatens US sovereignty

Stance on WHO pact reflects concerns on abortion, intellectual property

“Politics should never have a place in science," Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, said of the World Health Organization.
“Politics should never have a place in science," Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, said of the World Health Organization. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The World Health Organization is rushing to finalize a treaty to prevent and combat future pandemics, but some House Republicans say the U.S. should not be a part of the global accord, arguing that the health group is infringing on the rights of American taxpayers.

They’re concerned that the treaty will result in U.S. taxpayer dollars going toward abortion. They’re also concerned about threats to U.S. intellectual property rights.

The sentiment underscores a large and growing Republican mistrust in the international body.

Proponents of the treaty say banding together to prepare for the next pandemic is essential, but a group of conservative lawmakers and advocates that gathered Monday on Capitol Hill said the accord is a “global power grab” that uses public health as a method of spreading progressive values.

“The COVID-19 pandemic showed us that the WHO is not the preeminent global health institution that perhaps it once was,” said Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, who chairs the House Oversight and Accountability Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic. “Politics should never have a place in science.”

The World Health Organization has spent months working to create the world’s first pandemic treaty, an international accord meant to help countries better prepare and respond to future disease outbreaks. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has described it as “a legally binding pact between countries working together.” Countries hope to finalize the agreement ahead of the annual World Health Assembly in Geneva at the end of May.

The treaty aims to help countries around the world prepare for “Disease X,” the next global disease outbreak. The draft treaty, released last year, calls for increased access to technology, a bolstered global supply chain, increased research and development capacities, a strengthened health care workforce and global coordinations, all the while focusing on equity.

“This is about a common enemy, and without a shared response, starting with preparedness, we will face the same problem as COVID,” Ghebreyesus said while speaking on a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January.

But a growing coalition of Republicans on Capitol Hill, as well as supporters of former President Donald Trump, have been rallying against the treaty. During a news conference Monday on Capitol Hill, Reps. Christopher H. Smith, R-N.J., and Wenstrup argued the treaty is too political and relies too heavily on financial support from U.S. taxpayers.

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, called the draft “a global power grab” that forces progressive social policies on countries. The agreement calls for the continuation of essential health services, which include abortion.

Smith also objected to the WHO’s relationship with the International Planned Parenthood Federation and interest in forming a relationship with the Center for Reproductive Rights. The WHO is expected to vote in May to grant official relations with the center.

The group also said it worried about potential financial obligations, saying participating countries would not know their financial obligations under the treaty until well after the treaty is signed.

Smith and Wenstrup said the Biden administration should send the treaty to the Senate for ratification, but it’s unclear if that will happen, and Republicans think it’s unlikely.

The COVID-19 pandemic spurred many Republicans to sour on the organization, and Trump repeatedly called for the U.S. to withdraw from the WHO during his term, but the Biden administration has reaffirmed its commitment to the global body.

The House-passed fiscal 2024 State-Foreign Operations appropriations bill would defund the WHO because of concerns about the organization’s actions during the pandemic.

“If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything it’s the need for serious systemic reform, and how [the WHO] does business,” Wenstrup said.

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