UN General Assembly Poised to Declare Abortion a Human Right
The European Union, along with the Biden administration are attempting to force the General Assembly to adopt a resolution that claims abortion as a human right.
Delegates are in the final phases of negotiating a General Assembly resolution that declares “access to safe abortion” as a policy that governments should pursue to “ensure the promotion and protection of the human rights of all women and their sexual and reproductive health.”
Despite repeated objections from countries that protect the life of children in the womb or have restrictive abortion laws, the resolution is being considered with the controversial new language for adoption by the end of the month.
The resolution would be a significant victory for abortion rights after years of stagnation in UN debates and give a clear mandate to UN agencies that abortion should be promoted as a human right. The language about “safe abortion” in the resolution has been rejected in multiple negotiations of other resolutions over the past decade.
Forcing the inclusion of this language became a high priority for progressive Western countries that backed the resolution from the beginning, including the major powers of the European Union and the Biden administration. The Japanese diplomat who led the negotiations was adamant that delegations could not delete or add anything to the language on abortion, essentially shutting down the negotiations. Despite repeated objections throughout the Summer, the language remained without changes in the draft.
Delegates were confused and disappointed at this intransigence, even questioning the good faith of the delegations sponsoring the resolution. Insiders close to the negotiations told the Friday Fax that not a single paragraph of the entire resolution was agreed by consensus before the draft was tabled this week, departing from the long-standing diplomatic procedure followed in General Assembly negotiations. Fifteen countries tried to block the resolution from being tabled as a result, to no avail.
Delegates were even more confused by the fact that the European Union seemed to manipulate the negotiations. EU member states, who are among the principal backers of the resolution, were aggressively negotiating. This is not normal protocol in General Assembly negotiations. In the ordinary course of things, the main sponsors of a resolution do not negotiate the resolution. They only facilitate the negotiations.
Delegations not only objected to the language about abortion in the resolution, but they also expressed concerns about language and terms that could be used to support policies that promote homosexuality and transgenderism under the pretense of addressing sexual violence, of which women are predominantly victims.
The language on abortion inches closer to establishing abortion as an international human right but falls short of such an outright declaration because it includes the caveat “where such services are permitted by law.”
The specific term “safe abortion” has not been widely accepted by UN member states. And the language tying abortion to human rights has been even more controversial in negotiations.
Egypt, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia proposed an amendment to delete the term “safe abortion” from a resolution of the Human Rights Council in June. It was supported by roughly half voting members of the Council.
In the General Assembly, the term has only ever been controversially included in a biannual resolution on violence against women sponsored by France and the Netherlands. Both delegations are outspoken supporters of an international right to abortion.
Promoting access to abortion as a human right is widely understood to undermine the consensus of the General Assembly, defined in 1994 at the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo, that abortion is a matter to be decided in national legislation without external interference, that governments should help women avoid abortion, and provide for the mothers’ and her child’s wellbeing before and after birth.
Progressive Western countries have been trying to erode these caveats in the Cairo conference for nearly three decades through the work of UN agencies.
UN agencies routinely promote the notion of “safe abortion” under the rubric of “reproductive health and rights,” especially the World Health Organization, the UN Population Fund, and the UN agency for Women. But they have done this largely on their own initiative without a mandate of the General Assembly.