Ambassador Elizabeth Cousens told the executive board of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) that a series of recent meetings have “helped strengthen our collective understanding of reproductive rights.” It would likely surprise people on both side of the UN abortion debate that there is anything resembling a collective understanding. It remains one of the most fought over terms at the world body.
Cousens made the statement as the UN undergoes a 20-year review of the Cairo program on population and development. At the Cairo Conference, abortion proponents were defeated in their attempt to gain an international right to abortion but they have never given up trying.
Over the past several months UNFPA has held meetings to review the Cairo agreement and to draft statements that are supposed to inform the new Cairo process. They are under instructions from the General Assembly that the document would not be re-opened or changed. Yet several of UNFPA’s meetings were designed to advance abortion and sexual rights.
In October, a UN committee dismissed one of UNFPA’s regional documents. The “Bali Declaration”  urged nations to provide abortion and recognize the “sexual rights” of youth. The document was not negotiated – nor agreed to – by governments. Indonesia, the host country, distanced itself from it.
A delegate at the Hague Conference on Human Rights – a meeting mentioned by Ambassador Cousens – complained  it promised to address human rights, yet focused solely on sexual and reproductive health and rights “which is not even a term from the [Cairo program] and yet taken for granted.”
He stated “the real and urgent challenges that people around the world are facing” were ignored, like diseases, education, shelter, youth unemployment, and health and nutrition.
The delegate requested his government’s views be included in the Hague conference document. Instead of a document, though, the Chairman released only her “reflections .” It did not mention these differing views.
Her “reflections” included a call for removing “all legal and other barriers” to sexual and reproductive health services – particularly for adolescent girls, comprehensive sex education, abortion services, and training health providers to give confidential services regardless of age. Her “reflections” also called abortion proponents “human rights defenders” who must be “protected and supported in their work.”
The Friday Fax asked the U.S. ambassador to clarify her statement about the “collective understanding” of reproductive rights. By press time, U.S. officials had not responded.