UN Pro-life Victory Tempered by Troubling Trends

Last week’s pro-life victory at the United Nations (UN) Commission on Population and Development (CPD) was not without some setbacks. While there were eleventh hour dramatics on the question of abortion, other language troublesome to pro-family critics crept into the document.

One provision calls for “sexuality education.” Another calls for the training and equipping of health services providers to perform “safe abortions.” Yet another one supports a controversial but so far General Assembly-rejected Millennium Development Goal of “universal access to reproductive health.”

While delegates emphasized that nothing in the document should be construed to support, promote, or endorse abortion and the new non-binding document “creates no new rights,” several phrases were included in the document without precise definitions. UN agencies and committees use such imprecise language to influence governments to change their laws on social policy.

The new CPD document, for instance, has new agreed upon language that calls for “providing young people with comprehensive education on human sexuality.” The document does not define “human sexuality,” so UN agencies and committees will likely turn to technical definitions provided by other UN institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO states, “Sexuality…encompasses sex, gender, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy, and reproduction.” The definition further explains, “Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, practices, roles, and relationships.” It is likely that many of the delegates allowing for “human sexuality” into the CPD document were not aware of the WHO definition.

Sharon Slater of Family Watch International lobbied last week against the language of “human sexuality” by using a UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) sponsored pamphlet distributed a few years ago in Mexico that bears a striking resemblance to the WHO definition. The pamphlet “teaches youth that a person can have sexual pleasure” with “inanimate objects, animals, minors” or with a “non-consenting person.” She also used a UN Population Fund (UNFPA) sex-ed manual that teaches children, “It is common for boys to have frequent sexual intercourse with other boys.”

The WHO definitions are not created by governments and have never been approved by the WHO World Health Assembly [the WHO general assembly of member states]. Technical definitions of this sort are created instead by sometimes ideologically-driven staff bureaucrats and “experts.”

Another area of concern in the new CPD document is a provision that calls on health systems to “train and equip health service providers” to “take such measures to ensure that such abortion is safe and accessible.” Critics fear this language could be used to remove conscience protection from health care workers to refuse to perform or refer for abortions.

The CPD document also contained two references to a controversial Millennium Development Goal target on “universal access to reproductive health” which started appearing in UN literature in 2007, despite pushback from many countries who insist that no new targets had been agreed to by the UN member states in the negotiating process in 2000 and in the 2005 review process. UNFPA has used the supposed new target to call for greater funding for UN-style family planning programs.

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