15 years after Cairo, abortion controversy rages

In October, the UN General Assembly held a high-level meeting for the 15th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development. While some have used the anniversary to try and assess progress towards realizing the ICPD program of action, the UN Fund for Population Activities and pro-abortion non-governmental organizations have sought to use the review process to expand the ICPD understanding of “reproductive health” and its related terms to include abortion.

Claiming that now is the “time to renew efforts to achieve their targets and goals in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights,” UNFPA and abortion rights groups have vowed that they will fight any “backtracking” on the Cairo agenda.

Critics point out that at the original ICPD meeting, states left Cairo with the understanding that abortion laws were to be determined by sovereign states and that the ICPD created “no new rights;” particularly, no right to abortion. Many countries also made explicit reservations to ensure that terms related to reproductive health could not later be construed to include abortion.

The UNFPA has taken the lead role in organizing the events leading up to the commemorative General Assembly session. At the Commission on Population and Development last March, heated negotiations on “reproductive rights” language went down to the wire, as states fought to keep abortion out of the document. In Berlin in September, the UNFPA sponsored an NGO forum on the ICPD anniversary and deliberately shut pro-lifers out of the proceedings. The Berlin Call to Action calls on states to repeal abortion laws. Parliamentarians have expressed worry that a UNFPA-organized meeting in Ethiopia later this month will likewise focus on abortion.

In recent years, the UNFPA and pro-abortion groups have also sought to keep the ICPD relevant by tying it to the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, established in 2000. Despite intense lobbying efforts by UNFPA and abortion rights groups, reproductive health was left out of the MDGs. In 2005, however, abortion rights advocates started claiming victory, boasting of a new target under MDG 5 to improve maternal health, calling for “universal access to reproductive health by 2015,” which was not debated by states, but only included in the annex of a report from the secretary-general.

Since then, the UNFPA and abortion advocates have been using the acclaimed new target on “universal access to reproductive health” to expand on the ICPD program of action and the MDGs to promote “safe abortion” under the guise of reducing maternal mortality.

While UNFPA and pro-abortion NGOs continue to use the review process to expand the ICPD program, nations are continuing to push back and make interpretive statements defining abortion out of sexual and reproductive health and its related terms. At the CPD in March, several countries made on-the-record statements reiterating that abortion is not part of reproductive health. Malta made a particularly strong statement highlighting the pressure put on nations and stated that its delegation was finding it more difficult to accept the resolutions of UN bodies like the CPD, where there were consistent attempts to expand “reproductive health” to include abortion.

Samantha Singson is director of government relations for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-Fam). This originally appeared Oct. 8 as a C-Fam Family Fax and is reprinted with permission.