‘No International Right to Abortion’: US, Ten Other Countries Reject UN Summit Outcome

Patrick Goodenough | November 15, 2019 | 4:16am EST
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Pro-life activists hold a prayer rally in Nairobi on Thursday. (Photo by Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images)
Pro-life activists hold a prayer rally in Nairobi on Thursday. (Photo by Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – The Trump administration on Thursday joined a handful of other governments at a U.N. population conference, reiterating that there is no “right” to abortion, and rejecting an outcome document which they said had not been sufficiently negotiated among governments or been the result of a consensus process.

The organizers of the “Nairobi Summit” hailed the three-day event as a success, “with partners making bold commitments to transform the world by ending all maternal deaths, unmet need for family planning and gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls by 2030.”

But in a statement read out separately on behalf of the U.S. and ten other countries, Valerie Huber, the U.S. special representative for global women’s health, criticized the process.

Organized by the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) and the governments of Kenya and Denmark, the summit marked the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo.

In the joint statement, Huber recalled that while the 1994 Cairo outcome document, the ICPD Program of Action, had been negotiated by the entire U.N. membership, “only a small handful of governments were consulted on the planning and modalities of the 2019 Nairobi summit.”

“Therefore, outcomes from this summit are not intergovernmentally negotiated, nor are they the result of a consensus process. As a result, they should not be considered normative, nor should they appear in any future documents as intergovernmentally-agreed language.”

The joint statement raised concern about the inclusion of vague terminology, noting that “ambiguous terms and expressions, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights … may be used to actively promote practices like abortion.”

“There is no international right to abortion,” Huber said. “In fact, international law clearly states ‘everyone has the right to life.’” (The written statement citing article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”)

The countries joining the U.S. in the statement were Brazil, Belarus, Egypt, Haiti, Hungary, Libya, Poland, Senegal, St. Lucia, and Uganda.

Huber’s statement also rejected “sex education that fails to adequately engage parents and which promotes abortion as a method of family planning.”

“But we do support – and again quoting from the ICPD – ‘proper regard for parental guidance and responsibilities,’ and giving young people the skills to avoid sexual risk.”

Earlier during the conference, the administration highlighted its commitment to funding for family planning, but said such programs should offer alternatives to abortion.

“Our global health programs, including those for family planning, are consistent with the ICPD pronouncement that abortion is not a method of family planning and that program should seek to provide women alternatives to abortion,” the U.S. said in that statement.

The U.S. statement also included explicit pro-life language, with a reference to “the inherent value of every human life – born and unborn.”

The statement read out by Huber recalled that the ICPD Program of Action had only achieved consensus approval because it included a paragraph making clear that the conference did not create any “new” international human rights.

That key paragraph had also stated that implementing the program’s recommendations was “the sovereign right of each country, consistent with national laws and development priorities, with full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of its people, and in conformity with universally recognized international human rights.”


Over the quarter century since the Cairo conference, Republican administrations in the U.S. have waged a sometimes lone battle in U.N. forums against attempts to insert into resolutions terms like “reproductive rights.”

Advocacy groups sometimes cite those terms to promote abortion, and to pressure governments, especially in the developing world, to change or rescind their abortion laws.

The U.S. pushback efforts have generally been unsuccessful, and in the votes that follow the U.S. has stood alone, or virtually alone, in opposition the texts.

Late last year, for example, the U.S. unsuccessfully tried to have references to “reproductive rights” removed from two U.N. General Assembly resolutions dealing with marriage and sexual harassment. The resolutions then passed by votes of 131-1 and 134-2 (the U.S. and Nauru voting “no.)

When the U.S. opposes such language, critics invariably accuse it of trying to “roll back women’s rights,” even though the U.S. is supportive of many elements contained in the ICPD, such as ending violence against women and girls, promoting universal access to education, and reducing maternal and child mortality.

As is usual at such events, the Nairobi summit witnessed efforts by organizations on both sides of the abortion divide to advance their positions.

A campaign called CitizenGO garnered more than 100,000 signatures on a petition urging Kenya’s president to reject the commitments coming out of the summit.

Attempts by a small group of CitizenGO activists to demonstrate near the summit venue ran into difficulties, when armed police moved them on.

Meanwhile organizations from around the world signed a “call to action,” pushing among other things for “the right of all people who can become pregnant to the information, the means, and the support to have an abortion, by the method, and at the time, place, and with the accompaniment of their choice, including through self-managed abortion.”


See also:

At UN, Trump Slams Attempts to ‘Assert a Global Right to Taxpayer-Funded Abortion’  (Sept. 25, 2019)

US Pushes Back Against ‘Reproductive Rights’ Language in UN Texts (Dec. 18, 2018)







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