Governments spent much
of the 42nd session of the United Nations’ Commission on
Population and Development formulating a resolution on the contribution
of the Programme of Action from the International Conference on Population
and Development (ICPD) to achievement of the Millennium Development
Goals. But while the negotiations took place, governments, multilateral
organizations and NGOs also took time to issue statements expressing
their own views on the Programme of Action and MDGs. Of particular interest
was what was said regarding reproductive choice.
Numerous governments commented
on their progress towards achieving gender equality by establishing
"gender" agencies and getting more women into positions of power.
But not many spoke about men in relation to family planning, with Portugal,
Sweden, Switzerland and Tunisia being notable exceptions. This was all
the more striking given that the Commission on the Status of Women,
held at the UN three weeks ago, had as its theme the shared responsibilities
of men and women for care.
It would have been of real
interest if governments had recounted both how many women of all ages
have access to modern contraceptive methods and how many men
are consistently using condoms or have opted for vasectomies in order
to share responsibility for planning their families.
A fairly large number of
governments expressed their support for reproductive rights, in most
cases by translating this into commitments to contraceptive availability.
Quite a few also focused attention on MDG 5 – improving maternal health
– but the number that addressed abortion in this context was limited.
Some noted that unsafe abortion continues to be a problem, such as Sweden,
the Czech Republic on behalf of the European Union, and the representatives
of the UN Secretary General and UNFPA.
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The representative for
Poland made a point of mentioning that, "According to Polish law,
abortion ‘on request’ is illegal." Malta devoted almost
half their statement to denunciation of abortion, saying there should
never be "an obligation on any party [to] consider abortion as a legitimate
form of family planning, reproductive health rights, services or commodities."
This was reiterated by the speaker for the Vatican, who asserted that,
"abortion is not a legitimate form of sexual and reproductive health,
rights or services." In their written statement, the NGO World Youth
Alliance went even further, claiming that a reduction in fertility levels
"represents particular risks to women who will represent the majority
of any ageing population and will find themselves targets for end-of-life
policies, which in Europe are already marked by a trend towards euthanasia."
A few governments and several
NGOs noted the need for safe abortion care, either mentioning it explicitly
(e.g., Norway) or by referring to commitments made through the Programme
of Action. One of the most encouraging statements came from South Africa:
"In addressing MDG 5 on improving maternal health we must consider
maternal mortality both as a public health and a human rights issue.
We should not accept a situation in which thousands of women die every
year in pregnancy and due to maternal health issues, particularly from
largely preventable causes." Their list of needed measures provided
a good basic framework for action, including: access to comprehensive
sexual and reproductive health information and services without discrimination
of any kind; responding appropriately to adolescents’ needs; addressing
too early, too close and unwanted pregnancies through access to a comprehensive
range of contraceptive means and measures to combat violence against
women; ending punitive laws against women who undergo abortions; and
providing safe and accessible termination of pregnancy services to the
fullest extent of the law with post-termination counseling, education
and family planning services.