Last week, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) closed its annual session with delegations defining abortion out of a resolution on maternal mortality. Over the course of this year’s two-week commission, United Nations (UN) member states were embroiled in heated negotiations over “reproductive rights” language which some delegations believe would be used to promote abortion.
The United States (US) delegation introduced the resolution calling for increased political will to tackle maternal mortality. The US delegate argued that their resolution underscored the importance of guaranteeing all of women’s human rights, “including sexual and reproductive health rights.”
Based on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s testimony to Congress last year, the current US administration is on record that “reproductive health includes access to abortion.”
The resolution was adopted by consensus at CSW on Friday, but contrary to an Associated Press article which stated that “abortion was a non-issue during the two-week session,” a number of states including Chile, Saint Lucia and Iran, made explanations of position to ensure that “reproductive rights” and other “health service” terms in the text would not be later misinterpreted to include abortion.
Pro-life and pro-family lobbyists who held vigil outside the negotiations were happy to see another split within the European Union (EU) over the reproductive health provisions. Several eyewitnesses told the Friday Fax that they had overheard several EU countries bullying the delegation from Malta to drop its objections to the “reproductive rights” provisions in the draft text.
The split within the EU over the abortion issue became public when Poland and Malta made statements to explicitly reject abortion. Poland interpreted “the reference to reproductive and sexual rights and services in the resolution as not constituting an encouragement of abortion.” Malta stated that it did not “consider abortion a legitimate form of family planning or other services.” Going even further, Malta criticized the notion of “unsafe abortion” which was included in the resolution, as it “implies that abortions could be free of any physical or psychological risks and ignored the rights of the unborn.”
The Holy See delegation reiterated that they do “not consider abortion or abortion services to be a dimension of reproductive health or reproductive health services.” The Holy See stated “the suggestion that reproductive health includes a right to abortion explicitly violates the language of the ICPD [International Conference on Population and Development], defies moral and legal standards within local communities and divides efforts to address the real needs of mothers and children.”
Many delegates expressed concern over the rushed process and lack of transparency in the negotiation proceedings on the maternal mortality resolution, as well as other resolutions being negotiated simultaneously. Some pro-life delegations complained that they were not receiving copies of the draft text in time to go over them before negotiations and more than one pro-life delegation alluded to high-level calls that were made behind the scenes by the US to pressure countries to drop objections to the resolution. One seasoned observer told the Friday Fax, “In terms of fair negotiations, this was the dirtiest CSW I have ever seen.”