On Monday, December 14, 2015, a key resolution concerning “Women in Development” was adopted at United Nations Headquarters by Second Committee of the General Assembly without any reference to abortion—a hard won fight for pro-life Member States and civil society.
The Second Committee covers issues relating to development, and traditionally has been free from controversial social issues. This year, however, there was an aggressive push to incorporate abortion and other divisive issues into the Committee’s program of work. Thanks to the efforts of committed pro-life countries, and with the support of ADF International, abortion activists were defeated.
Abortion activists were defeated
Although abortion references are common in UN texts, they are always accompanied by a protective clause that safeguards pro-life countries. This clause clarifies that abortion can only be promoted in Countries where it is legal. The treatment of abortion at the UN has been understood in this way since the famous 1994 International Conference on Population and Development. Over twenty years later, the idea that it is national governments, not the UN, that have the authority to decide a country’s laws on abortion has been firmly entrenched. The removal of this protective clause would be an enormous loss, signalling a drastic disregard for the sovereign authority of Member States.
Even so, in the negotiation of the resolution on “Women in Development” there was a serious attempt on the part of pro-abortion countries (consisting primarily of liberal Latin American States) to co-opt the Group of 77 to introduce pro-abortion language without the established protective clause. The Group of 77 is made up of all developing countries at the UN (132 countries). Although some of the developing countries are ardent supporters of abortion, the majority require the protective clause as a matter of urgent national priority. However, pro-abortion countries took advantage of a poorly attended meeting and attempted to take over the Group of 77 in order to create a false “mandate” to remove the qualifier. Other pro-abortion countries outside the Group (primarily Scandinavians and other liberal Europeans) were quick to jump at the opportunity to introduce this language into the resolution; confident that they were on their way to inaugurating the first ever unrestricted reference to abortion.
The vast majority of developing countries at the UN, ranging from the staunchly pro-life to even those with more relaxed abortion laws, rely on the qualifier to safeguard their national laws on abortion. For these countries, the loss of the qualifier is unthinkable. The fact that a bureaucratic error of this magnitude can occur which would jeopardise the qualifier is a testament to the machinations of pro-abortion forces at the UN, compounded by the widespread chaos and institutional confusion inherent in juggling the positions of 193 countries.
ADF International, alongside pro-life Member States and the Holy See, was instrumental in sounding the alarm regarding the attempted removal of the qualifier. By galvanizing pro-life States to reclaim their position, the Group of 77 corrected its position and strongly insisted on retaining the qualifier. Led by the Holy See, pro-life countries went even further to call for the complete removal of abortion language in the resolution, arguing that this kind of language is inappropriate in the context of a development text. Our opponents, caught off guard, had little choice but to accept complete defeat. The pressure on pro-life States at the UN is immense; however, the fact that this resolution was adopted with no references to abortion makes clear that when we are united and vigilant in the defence of life, it is possible to secure significant pro-life victories.