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Update from New York: Do UN Delegates Get it on Abortion?

April 8, 2005

Update from New York: Do UN Delegates Get it on Abortion?

NEW YORK CITY-Nicaragua came out strongly against abortion during her presentation on Wednesday, April 6, at the UN Commission on Population and Development.  So far, Nicaragua is the only country to do so, and the only other chance will come Friday afternoon when the final drafts of resolutions will be voted on. "The government of Nicaragua rejects abortion and under no circumstances could it be considered as a means of regulating fertility or birth control, just as it was made clear in the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo; all domestic legislation which regulates this is a matter of Nicaraguan sovereignty. . .," said Nicaragua's representative on the floor of the meeting.  "The government reiterates on this occasion the reservations that were expressed in relation to the terms 'sexual and reproductive health,' 'sexual rights,' 'sexual and reproductive health services,' and other similar wording and it is intended once more that these do not include abortion."  It is not clear if this means Nicaragua will support the pro-life amendment to the commission meeting's draft resolution. As pro-life non-governmental organizations (NGOs) try to drum up support at a UN conference here for an amendment excluding abortion from "reproductive rights" language, many delegates from even supposedly pro-life countries have been unreceptive.  "We don't have to worry about it.  'Reproductive rights' includes abortion only in countries where it is legal.  Abortion is illegal in our country," said a delegate from the Philippines.  The Irish delegate said he, too, wasn't concerned.  A delegate from Australia seemed friendly until we told her we were from the pro-life, pro-family coalition.  Most delegates from Latin America have been non-committal on a proposed amendment to the UN Commission on Population and Development's draft resolution, reaffirming a previous declaration, that would state that "nothing therein creates a right to abortion." Some delegates from Muslim and from African nations have been more receptive, as well as those from the United States.  It's not that the other delegates say they favor having the United Nations promote abortion around the world; they say that there is no need for our amendment.  The executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Thoraya Obaid, assured me that UNFPA-which is playing a big role at this conference-and its member states did not want the agency to promote abortion, and that the phrase "reproductive rights" is not and should not be interpreted to include abortion. Yet other UN organs and other international organizations have used the UN's previous declarations in favor of reproductive rights and "sexual and reproductive health services" to argue that nations must liberalize their abortion laws.  We hope that the UN commission adopts the simple amendment proposed.  If the delegates and UN officials believe what they are saying, they should not object to language that just removes the right to abortion as an issue. While here, we have also gathered more evidence buttressing our previous work.  A medical professor from Kenya who is also a delegate said that until two years ago, clinics in his country were bursting with population control and family planning supplies while other medical products went scarce-a fine example of Western aid agencies' priorities.  The situation has recently improved, he said.  We will be writing more on this topic in the near future. Next week, we will write about the conclusion of the conference.

Joseph A. D'Agostino is Vice President for Communications at PRI.

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