At United Nations headquarters this week, the Obama administration continued its push for ever increasing access to legal abortion around the world. The Obama team has introduced language that has thrown a high level negotiation into a roil. The US proposal calls for “universal access” to “sexual and reproductive health services including universal access to family planning.” The document under consideration will culminate in the 2009 Annual Ministerial Review, which convenes next week in Geneva.
The sticking point for many delegations and what has driven apart the usual solid European bloc is the use of the word “services” in the context of “reproductive health.” Way back in 2001 during negotiations related to the ten year review of the Child Convention, a Canadian delegate blurted out “of course everyone knows ‘services’ means abortion.” Ever since, the word “services” has been a topic of hot debate.
So controversial is the topic of “services” in the context of “reproductive health” that the usually impenetrable negotiating bloc of the 27 member European Union has imploded with Malta, Poland and Ireland splitting from their allies and joining the Holy See in opposing the measure.
In addition to the word "services," delegates are also concerned with attempts to link “sexual and reproductive health” to “universal access,” something the UN has never agreed to and what would amount to a major gain for pro-abortion forces. There have been numerous attempts at the UN to insert language on "universal access to sexual and reproductive health services." In 2005 at the Commission on Population and Development, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) joined with pro-abortion lobby groups to call for "universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and programmes." They were defeated in large part by the Bush-appointed US delegates who insisted that none of the terms related to reproductive health be interpreted to include abortion.
In recent weeks the new US administration has interpreted "reproductive health" to include abortion. In April, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a US House subcommittee, “We [the Obama administration] happen to think that family planning is an important part of women’s health and reproductive health includes access to abortion that I believe should be safe, legal and rare.” In this statement, Clinton also contradicted the agreement reached at the Cairo Confernence which said that abortion can never be used as a part of family planning. This was a document that Clinton helped to negotiate.
Apart from the US, other delegations including Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, France, Estonia and the United Kingdom are pushing for the language.
The G-77 developing nations' bloc is still holding its own negotiations to determine whether or not they will have a common position on the paragraph.
Negotiations are scheduled to continue this week and the draft declaration will be adopted by high level government ministers at the end of next week's meeting in Geneva.