Lancet, Guttmacher Publish Abortion-Centered Wish List Ahead of World Health Assembly

By | May 10, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 11 (C-Fam)  Advocates for abortion and “sexual rights” have worked for decades to advance their agenda at international institutions, but have never won global consensus. This week they launched a series of papers in hopes of influencing the upcoming World Health Organization’s governing body, the World Health Assembly, which meets later this month in Geneva and sets forth the WHO’s agenda.

The United States contributed or was assessed nearly half a billion dollars to fund that agenda in 2017.

At an event in South Africa on Tuesday, the Guttmacher Institute unveiled an ambitious agenda to define and advance “sexual and reproductive health and rights” (SRHR)—which unambiguously includes abortion, and not only where currently legal.

Published in the Lancet, the new Commission was several years in the making and sets out to “comprehensively” define SRHR, which has been rejected by nations at the UN General Assembly and has never been formally defined or accepted in a global binding agreement. The proposed definition explicitly includes “safe” abortion and comprehensive sexuality education, which are among the most contentious issues in UN negotiations.

Also called for by the Commission—but absent from UN consensus—are hormone therapy for those identifying as transgender and possible changes in law “related to infertility treatment, adoption, and surrogacy” to enable same-sex couples to start families.

Like many other UN agencies, the WHO answers to the nations of the world for its authority, but is also a large bureaucracy with a history of exceeding its mandate. In recent years, it has published guidance documents on “safe abortion” that explicitly undermine the right of countries to set their own laws and policies on the legality of abortion and place the conscience rights of health care workers second to the “right” of women to access abortion procedures. Last year, the WHO launched a global database of abortion laws and policies—explicitly for the purpose of eliminating barriers to “safe abortion”—on the website

With regard to the new Lancet-Guttmacher Commission on SRHR, the WHO is careful to acknowledge its limits, while telegraphing strong support for the recommendations it contains. The Commission includes a disclaimer saying WHO-affiliated co-authors are solely responsible for their views, which “do not necessarily represent the decisions, policy, or views of WHO.” Yet published alongside the Commission in a separate comment is a statement by the heads of WHO and UNFPA saying the two agencies “welcome the report” and acknowledging that a “strategic priority” for both agencies is universal health coverage that includes “as detailed in the report and in line with existing WHO guidelines” a list of things that includes “safe abortion” and “comprehensive sexuality education.”

While the Commission draws heavily on the language of human rights to defend its strategy, neither its recommendations nor its notion of what constitute a human right are the result of global consensus, leaving open the question of the source of their moral authority. At best, they offer Guttmacher-generated “evidence” which cannot resolve the fundamental philosophical questions at stake. Nevertheless, as stated in an accompanying editorial co-authored by Lancet editor Richard Horton, “while globally conservative forces are rallying, so is a committed and organised response.”

As if the unsuccessful attempt to establish a global right to abortion at the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994—and every attempt since—were anything but committed and organized.