New Development Goals Shut Out Abortion Rights
NEW YORK, July 25 (C-FAM) A two week marathon negotiation over the world’s development priorities through 2030 ended at U.N. headquarters on Saturday with abortion rights shut out once again.
When the co-chairs’ gavel finally fell Saturday afternoon to signal the adoption of a new set of development goals, delegates broke out in applause. The applause was more a sigh of relief that a final round of negotiations lasting twenty-eight hours had come to its end than a sign of approval for the new goals.
Last-minute changes and blanket assurances ushered the way for the chairman to present his version of the document delivered with an implicit “take it or leave it.”
Aside from familiar divisions between poor and wealthy countries, the proposed development agenda that delegates have mulled over for nearly two years remains unwieldy and unmarketable, with 17 goals and 169 targets on everything from ending poverty and hunger, to universal health coverage, economic development, and climate change.
Once again hotly contested social issues were responsible for keeping delegates up all night. The outcome was a compromise.
Abortion advocates were perhaps the most frustrated. They engaged in a multi-year lobbying campaign for new terminology to advance abortion rights, with little to show for their efforts. The new term “sexual and reproductive health and rights,” which has been associated with abortion on demand, as well as special new rights for individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual (LGBT), did not get traction, even with 58 countries expressing support.
Despite this notable omission, countries with laws protecting unborn children were disappointed at the continued use of the term “reproductive rights,” which is not in the Rio+20 agreement from 2012 that called for the new goals. The term is seen as inappropriate in an agenda about outcomes and results rather than normative changes on sensitive subjects.
Even so, “reproductive rights” is tempered by a reference to the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, which recognizes that abortion is a matter to be dealt with in national legislation. It generally casts abortion in a bad light and does not recognize it as a right. The new terminology that failed was an attempt to leave the 1994 agreement behind in order to reframe abortion as a human rights issue.
Sexual and reproductive health was one of a handful of subjects that held up agreement in the final hours of negotiations. The failure to get the new terminology in the goals prompted the United States and European countries to insist on having a second target about sexual and reproductive health. They also failed to include “comprehensive sexuality education” in the goals because of concerns over sex education programs that emphasize risk reduction rather than risk avoidance.
The same countries failed to delete the only reference to “the family” in the whole document. Unable to insert any direct reference to LGBT rights at the United Nations, they are concentrating their efforts on diluting or eliminating the longstanding U.N. definition of the family. They argue “the family” is a “monolithic” term that excludes other households. Delegates from Mexico, Colombia and Peru, supporters of LGBT rights, asked that the only reference to the family be “suppressed.”
The proposed goals are not the final word on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They will be submitted to the General Assembly, whose task is to elaborate a post-2015 development agenda to replace the Millennium Development Goals next year.