ADF International


Insiders View on the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women, 2016

Year after year, the annual Commission on the Status of Women at United Nations Headquarters represents the pinnacle of abortion activists’ efforts to promote and advance their agenda.

Unfortunately, this year was no different. While the resultant outcome document, adopted 24 March 2016, includes the usual regrettable abortion language, the session was remarkable in that defenders of life fought back with an unprecedented level of unity and strategic focus.

Early on in the three-week negotiation process, several pro-life delegations banded together with the goal of achieving the unimaginable—completely eliminating abortion language from the outcome document, or at the least, putting up the biggest fight the abortion lobby has seen in years.

Together with the Holy See, these countries were committed to fighting until the end to remove “reproductive rights,” which in UN parlance is understood to mean the “right to abortion”. They strategically worked to advance general health language as a replacement.

Throughout the many days and long nights of negotiations, the vast majority of the UN Membership supported this goal, with only a small minority continuing to advance abortion language.

Even if not entirely opposed to abortion in all circumstances, most countries understood that a document on women and development merited a broad strokes paragraph on health, and that the controversial specificity of “reproductive rights” language added no real value to a text meant to promote the wellbeing of women and girls. If the UN played by the rules, this would have been a landslide victory for the pro-life cause.

However, it soon became apparent that the powers that be at the UN were growing increasingly alarmed by the number and strength of the calls for an abortion-less text. In recent years, UN agencies like UN Women and the UNFPA have come to expect the inclusion of such language, especially at the Commission on the Status of Women—any challenge to this status quo was unimaginable.

As a result, the steadfast position of pro-life countries caused proponents of “reproductive rights” to redouble their efforts, and to take the fight outside of the open negotiation room, into back room deals and to engage in last minute horse trading.

As a consequence, at the eleventh hour on the final day of the Commission, the Ambassador of Brazil, Chair of the proceedings, strode into the room, flashed “compromise” language on a projector for less than a minute, and promptly gaveled the text, signaling the conclusion of the session.

Pushed through at the last second, this language had never before been discussed in negotiations, and represents some of the worst abortion language within the UN repertoire.

Instead of the general health paragraph for which the majority of the Membership had spent three weeks supporting, the end result is a highly problematic, extremely narrow paragraph on “reproductive rights,” emergency contraception, “safe abortion”, and other similarly unacceptable terminology.

Upon hearing the gavel strike the table, the room, filled with the near complete UN Membership and countless civil society representatives including the ADF International UN team, was left in silent shock. Breaking the silence, the Holy See took the floor, questioning the Chair regarding his motives and apparent willingness to ignore the clearly stated will of the majority of the UN Membership with regard to the health section of the document.

To have the only paragraph on health in the text be so controversial, and to have it adopted in such a manner, highlights the fear of the abortion lobby, and their readiness to resort to bullying and pressure tactics. The text was reopened for several more hours of negotiations, but by this time, the fight had shifted to a discussion on language concerning the role of the family, and there was no hope of salvaging the health language.

As the dust clears, the secrets of the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing that transpired beyond the negotiation room starts to emerge. Essentially, for this round, certain countries made the decision to accept language on “reproductive rights,” in exchange for a strong, positive paragraph on the family and its critical contribution to development. Although it is preferable to avoid these difficult package deals, the resultant family paragraph represents a significant win for pro-family forces.

In the end, the inclusion of abortion language is nothing new, and the line has not shifted with regard to the UN and the promotion of abortion. The language, although extremely unfortunate, protects pro-life Member States by recognizing the promotion of abortion only where it is legal.

ADF International is committed to preserving these protections for pro-life States, and wherever possible, to encouraging countries to rollback abortion references in UN documents.

Ultimately, the 60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women was remarkable in that it represents the closest defenders of life have come to total victory in many years. To come so close in such a hostile forum is a testament to the commitment of the courageous pro-life Member State representatives that fought tirelessly for the protection of human life in this document.

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Faith-based legal advocacy organization that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all people.