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International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo) and Abortion

by | Oct 21, 2014

 

Editor’s Note: This is Part II of a four part series on the implications and effects of the International Conference on Population and Development that took place twenty years ago in Cairo.

By Scott Fischbach

Scott Fischbach, Executive Director of MCCL GO

Scott Fischbach, Executive Director of MCCL GO

Abortion advocates didn’t get what they really wanted 20 years ago. They have not stopped trying.

The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which took place in Cairo, Egypt, in September 1994, adopted a Program of Action seeking to achieve a range of important development goals. The plan does not call for the legalization or expansion of abortion.

On the contrary, the Program of Action affirms the equal dignity and right to life of every human being (chapter II, principle 1). It also instructs governments to help women avoid abortion and states that in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning (paragraph 7.24). And it states that changes to abortion policy should be made at the local or national level (paragraph 8.25).

The debate about Cairo has continued, however, as the world now looks to the post-2015 development agenda. Some of the debate has centered on the controversial language of “reproductive health” and “reproductive rights,” which some interpret to encompass abortion in spite of the fact that these terms have never been defined to include abortion in any UN negotiated document.

The debate about Cairo has continued, however, as the world now looks to the post-2015 development agenda. Some of the debate has centered on the controversial language of “reproductive health” and “reproductive rights,” which some interpret to encompass abortion in spite of the fact that these terms have never been defined to include abortion in any UN negotiated document.

In 2011, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health explicitly called for every nation to “decriminalize abortion” on the grounds that abortion restrictions violate the right to health protected “by international human rights law.”

That interpretation was not the consensus at Cairo. The truth is that legalized abortion is not and has never been required under international law: No United Nations treaty can fairly be construed as creating a right to abortion. In fact, various international documents—such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child—provide support for the protection of human beings at all developmental stages and in all conditions, including human beings in utero.

ICPDAbortion proponents have also sought to use the problem of maternal mortality to pressure pro-life countries to legalize abortion. The ICPD Program of Action calls for reducing the incidence of maternal mortality and morbidity and expanding the provision of maternal health care, including obstetric care, maternal nutrition, delivery assistance and trained birth attendants. Headway has been made toward this goal, but much works remains. An estimated 289,000 maternal deaths took place in 2013, most of them in the developing world and especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.

Abortion advocacy groups argue that abortion must be legalized to prevent those deaths. Earlier this year—as the Commission on Population and Development was reviewing the ICPD Program of Action at the United Nations—a group of international abortion advocates (from organizations including Ipas, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the International Planned Parenthood Federation) issued a declaration demanding that governments repeal all laws protecting unborn children in order to “sav[e] women’s lives.”

But maternal health depends far more on the quality of medical care (and related factors) than on the legal status or availability of abortion. Most countries with high maternal mortality are developing nations with poor maternal health care, while those with low mortality are developed nations with superior resources and care. This is true irrespective of abortion policy.

Consider these facts: Maternal mortality declined dramatically in the developed world as a result of advancements in modern medicine that took place before the widespread legalization of abortion. Today Ireland, Poland, Malta and Chile significantly restrict or prohibit abortion and yet have very low maternal mortality ratios.

After Chile banned abortion in 1989, for example, its maternal mortality ratio continued to decline significantly and at about the same rate, dropping 69.2 percent over the next 14 years, according to a 2012 study. Even maternal deaths due specifically to abortion declined—from 10.78 abortion deaths per 100,000 live births in 1989 to 0.83 in 2007, a reduction of 92.3 percent after abortion was made illegal. Legalizing abortion, the study’s authors conclude, is demonstrably unnecessary for the improvement of maternal health and the saving of women’s lives.

The real solution to maternal mortality is no secret: Lives can be saved by providing adequate nutrition, prenatal care, skilled birth attendants, emergency obstetric care, clean water and sanitation. Improvements in women’s education and the overall health care infrastructure are also tied to substantial reductions in maternal mortality. Many countries have failed to achieve these objectives because the significant resources spent to address this issue have not been properly prioritized. Lives have been lost as a result.

The stakes are high at the United Nations. Many in the international community will continue to push abortion worldwide and will seek to enshrine it in the post-2015 agenda. We should reject such efforts and instead focus on maternal health care and healthy reproductive outcomes. Twenty years after Cairo, supporters of unborn children and their mothers must remain as vigilant as ever.

Scott Fischbach is executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Global Outreach (MCCL GO), a U.N.-accredited non-governmental organization with one goal: to save as many innocent lives as possible from the destruction of abortion.

Editor’s note. This appeared at truthandcharityforum.org.

Categories: United Nations