As the United Nations (UN) gears up to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD+15), UN agencies like the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and abortion advocates such as the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) are pushing “sexual and reproductive health and rights,” with a particular focus on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The recent CRR publication “Using the Millennium Development Goals to Realize Women’s Reproductive Rights” cites the ICPD as the guide for its work and identifies the MDGs as an access point to push “sexual and reproductive health and rights.” CRR calls on advocates to “take advantage” of the focus on the MDGs as “a significant opportunity for reproductive rights advocates to press governments to comply with their human rights obligations.”
Abortion proponents were outraged when they failed to get a separate goal on “reproductive health,” but seized an opening in 2007 when “universal access to reproductive health” appeared as a “target” in the annex of a Secretary-General’s report. Despite consistent pushback from countries that no new target on reproductive health has been approved by the members of the General Assembly, UNFPA and CRR continue to claim that it is part of the MDGs.
The CRR paper attaches “reproductive rights” to no less than 5 of 8 MDGs. CRR takes the predictable tack of reading “sexual and reproductive health and rights” into the health-related MDGs, focusing on maternal mortality to push for “safe abortion.” CRR cites the non-binding recommendations of UN treaty bodies that have claimed that “maternal mortality is a violation of a woman’s right to life.”
However, CRR stretches its “reproductive rights” argument even further, to the goal of “developing a global partnership for development” with its targets of cooperating with pharmaceutical companies for access to “affordable and essential” drugs and the private sector to make the benefits of new technologies available. CRR argues that access to such drugs and technology “speak directly to important aspects of women’s reproductive rights, including access to modern contraception” and “safe abortion services.”
UNFPA is also focusing on the MDGs this year. At an ICPD +15 preparatory meeting last fall, UNFPA brought up the controversial target on “universal access to reproductive health” and claimed it was “accepted but not fully appreciated.” UNFPA announced it planned to push “sexual and reproductive health and rights” by making it part of country reviews on MDG progress.
UNFPA stresses that it wants to avoid any possibility of reopening discussions on the ICPD agreement, but that it plans to "raise visibility of ICPD and the ICPD-MDG linkages, and advance awareness and use of the new reproductive health target, particularly at the national level, and link it to other population and development and poverty reduction themes.”
Looking beyond next week’s UN Commission on Population and Development, UNFPA, CRR and other abortion promoters plan to advocate “sexual and reproductive health and rights” at other upcoming UN gatherings. Such venues include the World Health Assembly and the next General Assembly, as well as various regional and technical meetings taking place in the coming months.