The United States burned diplomatic bridges during this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women by using force and deception to pass an unpopular resolution calling for international access to contraception.
Countries accused the US of manipulating the negotiations process from start to finish through proposing the initial text of the resolution on maternal mortality, tightly controlling the ongoing negotiation and then using its prerogative as conference chairman to ram home a final document that other countries could not realistically change.
The US push for contraception presents a radical departure from language agreed upon at UN Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994 (ICPD), which used “family planning” instead of the word insisted upon by the US, “contraception.” Abortion is explicitly rejected as family planning in the Cairo document. Many countries worry that the US revision, along with their reference to reproductive rights within the resolution, could encourage a broader abortion agenda, a foreign policy priority of the Obama Administration.
The resolution, meant to address maternal health, was not well received by delegations like Chile, Iran, Malta and the Holy See because the US placed greater emphasis on contraception rather than the health of the mother.
Even before the women’s conference began, the United States dominated the negotiations by convening informal consultations behind closed doors. By holding consultations in advance, the US showed the importance it placed on the resolution and appeared to want to ensure that any major problems would be addressed before the opening of the conference.
Though concessions were made, the US was unwilling to compromise on “safe, effective, affordable and acceptable modern methods of contraception” or any references to reproductive rights. Rumors abound as to why the US would not compromise on this language, but delegations felt it was likely that the Obama administration’s national policy on contraception had now become its international policy as well.
Even with countries expressing deep concern, the US neglected to hold any formal negotiation on the resolution during the first week of the conference. Then, in a diplomatically questionable move, the US held negotiations at the US Mission rather than at the UN, sending a clear message to all parties that the process belonged to the United States. Having negotiations at the US Mission also precluded the government of Iran from attending, and Iran was one of the chief opponents to the US contraceptive/reproductive rights agenda.
The last negotiation was held within the UN but was ended abruptly by the US before agreement was reached. On the final day of the conference, delegates voted for the resolution with the understanding the US had met their concerns. Only after the vote did delegates realize the US had submitted what’s known as a “Chairman’s text,” which was full of the objectionable language.
The use of Chairman’s texts is a new and to many delegations a troubling development. It means that all the negotiations done by governments come to naught, and the final decision is made by one country.
John Klink, a long time chief negotiator for the Holy See and representative on several U.S. delegations to the UN, told the Friday Fax that the “chairmen often try certain things to get their way, as would the host countries of the negotiations.” But that in 14 years of doing this work he could “not recall a single instance of a chairman’s text being forced upon the negotiators.”