The committee that monitors state compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) will begin a new session in Geneva next week, but even prior to the meeting six of the eight states who will be reviewed have already been questioned on abortion. In a stinging written response to the CEDAW committee’s advance questions, Cameroon fired back that “abortion is murder.”
CEDAW does not mention abortion, but the committee has courted controversy for years by pressuring over 65 countries to liberalize their abortion laws. In a written communication to the Cameroon government, the CEDAW committee asked the government to account for how they have implemented CEDAW’s previous recommendations to “review the abortion law and increase access to, and availability of, contraception.”
The government of Cameroon provided a lengthy written answer to the question and repudiated the tendency to “elevate” abortion to “the rank of a right and dignity.” Cameroon continued that abortion “is portrayed as a freedom without mentioning that the mother exercises this freedom to the detriment of the child’s.”
The Cameroon response lists the risks associated with abortion, including death, intestinal aspiration, hemorrhaging, infection, sterility, ectopic pregnancy, future miscarriage, perforation of the uterus and distress. Cameroon warned that new ideologies and scientific and technical progress “must not lead to an erosion in basic values.”
Cameroon emphasized the traditional African philosophy that “recognizes the permanent bond that links societies and families to their ancestors” and how children are a “bridge between generations past and present, while representing future prospects for communities.” Therefore, any abortion performed for any reason “other than to save the life of the mother or child, impedes the expression of this vital social dynamic.”
Cameroon also reminded the CEDAW committee of an aspect it feels is overlooked – “the tremendous joy that the possibility of having a child brings to women, as well as to men and families.” Cameroon asks the members of the committee to “Think for a moment of the anguish felt by the many couples who do not have children; think of the thousands of women and men who, in spite of their comfortable material existence, desperately want a child, even if it means adopting just one child.”
While the recommendations of the CEDAW committee are non-binding, abortion activists have brought litigation in various countries citing human rights treaty bodies, like the CEDAW Committee, in challenging laws against abortion. Such arguments helped convince the Colombian constitutional court to liberalize that country’s restrictions on the practice.
CEDAW critics will be watching the next session closely to monitor the performance of several newly elected committee members such as Violet Tsisiga Awori of Kenya and Barbara Evelyn Bailey of Jamaica, who were high-ranking members of non-government organizations that advocated for abortion rights in their respective regions.
Along with Cameroon, the CEDAW Committee will also be reviewing the country reports of Armenia, Dominica, Germany, Guatemala, Haiti, Libya and Rwanda.