The governments of Poland and Malta broke ranks with the European Union on the question of abortion this week. The dissention occurred at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) which convened it's annual two-week meeting at UN headquarters in New York on Monday. The reaction of Poland and Malta happened after the EU tried to shift the meeting's agenda to include the right to abortion.
On Tuesday Radoslaw Mleczko, the Polish Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, told the gathering of UN Member States that Poland generally aligned itself with the EU but that any EU reference to sexual and reproductive health could not include abortion. On Thursday afternoon, the head of Malta's mission to the UN, Ambassador Saviour F. Borg said, "Malta would like to clarify its position with respect to the language relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights in the [EU] statement. Malta firmly continues to maintain that any position taken or recommendations made regarding women's empowerment and gender equality should not in any way create an obligation on any party to consider abortion as a legitimate form of reproductive health rights, services or commodities."
The split in the European Union is significant because the EU hardly ever splits on questions of social policy at the UN. Even countries that are generally anti-abortion go along with the more radical approach taken by the United Kingdom, France and Germany. They do this as an agreement that the EU will always work out their differences behind closed doors and present a united front at UN negotiations. This works to the advantage of the pro-abortion states since they outnumber the anti-abortion states. Moreover, an EU that is divided is one that can be defeated on social policy questions. In fact, the last time the EU split in any significant way was in the UN cloning debate which resulted in the UN calling for the ban of all forms of human cloning, an effort opposed by the UK, France, Germany and other left-wing European governments. It is unclear how meaningful this current split will be in the negotiations which will begin in earnest tomorrow.
Pro-life and pro-family issues were also woven into UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's opening remarks to the commission on Monday when he criticized the now widespread practice of choosing abortions based on the sex of the baby, an issue that was all but taken off the agenda at last year's CSW despite solid support from both civil society and numerous governmental delegations. In his speech to launch the new UN multi-year campaign to end violence against women, the Secretary-General stressed, "Through the practice of prenatal sex selection, countless others are denied the right even to exist. No country, no culture, no woman young or old is immune to this scourge."
The Secretary-General also highlighted the importance of families and children stating, "We know that violence against women compounds the enormous social and economic toll on families, communities, even whole nations. And we know that when we work to eradicate violence against women, we empower our greatest resource for development: mothers raising children."
Among the many pro-life and pro-family lobbyists attending the CSW is a large contingent of high school girls from Overbrook Academy in Rhode Island. Fourteen year old Elsa Corripio told the Friday Fax, "We want these delegates to know that there are many young people who believe in respecting life." Ana Paola Rangel, 15, added, "Maybe we can't change the world, but we know we can make a difference."