The abortion advocacy group, International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), capped off 2009 by releasing its list of top ten “wins” on “women’s health and rights.” Apart from “reproductive rights” gains, the IWHC list also heralds victories on gay rights and the decriminalization of prostitution.
IWHC’s definition of “reproductive rights” includes abortion, which the organization claims is “fundamental” to a woman’s “ability to exercise her rights to control her body, to self-determination, and to maintain her health.”
IWHC boasts of the new Obama administration’s early actions on “sexual and reproductive rights” as one of 2009’s biggest victories. Specifically highlighting Obama’s repeal of the Mexico City policy, the restoration of funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the creation of a new United States (US) office for Global Women’s Issues, the organization intends to capitalize on these policy changes in the coming year, working with a coalition of over fifty other “reproductive rights” groups to advise the Obama administration on developing foreign assistance policies and funding.
Outside of the US, IWHC ranks the revision of the Bolivian constitution as a triumph because of a new chapter dedicated to women’s rights and a provision which “entitles men and women to sexual and reproductive rights.” IWHC points out that the new constitution does not define life as starting at conception, as such a provision “would have outlawed abortion in the country.” IWHC is hoping that other Latin American countries will follow the Bolivian example and is looking at the election of a “pro-choice” Uruguayan president as a hopeful sign of things to come in the region.
At the international level, the IWHC touts the resolution produced by states at the United Nations’ 2009 Commission on Population and Development (CPD) as a significant victory because it “placed an unprecedented emphasis on human rights, including in regard to sexuality,” particularly on “comprehensive education on sexuality” and adolescent “reproductive health services.” Critics are quick to point out that while language on sexuality was included in the non-binding CPD resolution, many countries made statements of position to reiterate that no new rights had been created, particularly no new right to abortion.
Left unmentioned are major international setbacks to IWHC’s abortion agenda. While IWHC has claimed victory in some countries in 2009, pro-lifers were heartened by significant victories, particularly in Latin America, where there has been a marked trend towards the protection of unborn life.
The Dominican Republic successfully revised its constitution, which now declares that “the right to life is inviolable from conception until death.” The nation also tightened its penal law protection of unborn life. Honduras’ legislature passed a law banning use of “emergency contraception,” the high-hormone “morning after” pill, over concern that it may function as an abortifacient by preventing implantation. Peru’s Constitutional Court similarly found due to the morning after pill’s possible abortifacient effects, the drug could not be distributed in public health facilities.
Conservatives point out that these pro-life victories undercut the argument that a liberalized “customary” global norm on abortion is evolving.