Is U.S. Dobbs Decision Affecting the Global Abortion Debate?

By | July 28, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 29 (C-Fam) The UK government quietly removed abortion friendly language from a statement on religious freedom. It has drawn a strong rebuke from the sexual left that worries the recent Dobbs decision overturning the federal abortion regime in the United States may be causing negative reverberations around the world.

An earlier version of the UK statement called for a repeal of laws restricting abortion, and also called for the support of religious leaders who also support abortion. In the new version, the Brits have removed these passages.

The change was first reported by Humanists UK, which noted that the original document had 22 other countries as signatories, while the new toned-down version has only six. Norway and Denmark complained to Liz Truss, the British Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and one of the current frontrunners to replace Boris Johnson as Prime Minister of the UK.

Humanists UK also organized an open letter to Truss protesting the removal of the language.  Abortion groups like MSI Reproductive Choices, and others signed the letter. The letter states that “abortion provision around the world is under serious threat, due to the reversal of Roe v. Wade,” the Supreme Court decision that overturned its previous decision making abortion a federal right.  It also quotes the UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion or Belief, whose reports have also called for countries to liberalize their abortion laws.

“Freedom of religion or belief also guarantees to women the right to bodily autonomy and conscientious choice,” he wrote.

The letter calls for an explanation of the change.  Similar questions were raised in a debate in the British House of Lords, and a Conservative member, Baroness Penn, said the government “wanted to address a perceived ambiguity in the wording” of the statement and “ensure that its scope remains focused on freedom of religion and belief.”  She then immediately offered assurance that “we remain committed to defending and promoting universal and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights, including safe abortion.”

The word “abortion” does not appear in either version of the statement on freedom of religion, but references to “sexual and reproductive health and rights” and “bodily autonomy,” which are euphemistic phrases often used to insinuate abortion into agreed documents at the UN and in other negotiations.

While these phrases ostensibly refer to other things as well, such as maternal health, family planning, or freedom from physical assault, the media response immediately treated the language as synonymous with abortion.  The original UK Humanists headline revealing the changed statement was “Abortion deleted from UK Government-organized international human rights statement.”

Time will tell whether the UK will cave to pressure and restore the deleted text, or if the original signatories will refuse to sign the modified statement.  Apart from Norway and Denmark, Canada and the Netherlands—strong international abortion advocates—have not yet decided.

If nothing else, this incident removes any doubt as to whether “sexual and reproductive health and rights” and “bodily autonomy” are just other ways of saying “abortion.”