July 16, 2009
Nations Reject Abortion Language at UN Geneva Meeting
By Samantha Singson
(NEW YORK – C-FAM) Last week in Geneva, Switzerland, negotiations went down to the wire as the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) wound down its high-level meeting on health. After a marathon negotiating session that lasted until the wee hours of the morning, delegates adopted the Ministerial Declaration on "implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to global public health" rejecting a push by the United States (US) and most European Union (EU) countries to include language that some interpret to include abortion.
When negotiations began on the declaration at United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York last month, delegations became embroiled in heated debates almost immediately over controversial language regarding reproductive health "rights," "sexual and reproductive health services" and "universal access to family planning." As the Friday Fax previously reported , the Obama Administration had proposed "universal access" to "sexual and reproductive health services including universal access to family planning."
By the time negotiations in New York wound down before resuming in Geneva, the US had apparently moderated its position and would have been willing to compromise, but delegates from Sweden, Finland, Norway, Netherlands, Estonia and France insisted on including "reproductive rights" language. The terms "reproductive health services" and "reproductive rights" remain highly contentious in UN social policy discussions because they continue to be misinterpreted by powerful non-governmental organizations and UN agencies to include abortion.
Despite concentrated efforts to conclude the negotiations in New York prior to the start of the Geneva meeting, delegations were unable to reach consensus over the contentious language.
Late night negotiations carried on in Geneva as delegations continued to battle it out over the "reproductive rights" language in the draft text. While the US delegation remained quiet on the reproductive health provisions, the EU remained divided as Poland, Malta and Ireland continued opposing the controversial language despite pressure from their colleagues.
Malta's ambassador Victor Camillari made a strongly worded statement that stressed that "the right to life extended to the unborn child from the moment of conception and that the use of abortion as a means of resolving health or social problems was a denial of that right, and therefore Malta consistently disassociated itself from, and considered invalid, all statements or decisions that used references to sexual and reproductive health, directly or indirectly, to impose obligations on anyone to accept abortion as a right, a service or a commodity that could exist outside the ambit of national legislation."
The most contentious language regarding "reproductive rights" was removed from the text and the final declaration was adopted by consensus. While some language regarding "sexual and reproductive health" made it into the declaration, the reference was limited to the understanding reached at the Cairo Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Conference on Women, where it was agreed that no abortion rights were created and states made explicit reservations defining abortion out of the reproductive health and family planning provisions.
ECOSOC plans on holding a follow-up meeting next year to gauge how the impact of the declaration in changing public health systems.