Nigeria Leads Fight Against Abortion at the UN

By | September 2, 2022

NEW YORK, September 2 (C-Fam) Nigeria stood up to the United States and the European Union in a heated debate about abortion in the General Assembly on Friday.

“Each country should decide its abortion laws at the national level without external interference,” decried a Nigerian delegate during a General Assembly debate on access to justice for victims of sexual violence. “Countries should help women avoid abortion and provide mothers and their children with health-care and social support,” he added, citing past UN agreements.

The Nigerian delegation proposed amendments to delete controversial language promoting abortion and gender ideology in the resolution. The amendments co-sponsored by Belarus, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Libya, Mauritania and Senegal were supported by more than thirty delegations mostly from Africa and the Middle East. They ultimately failed but the strong result helped to show that abortion rights are far from being a settled issue internationally.

The Nigerian delegate cited the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, where members of the United Nations agreed to address the negative impacts of abortion in UN policy. That agreement cast abortion in a negative light as something that should be avoided, but Western countries and UN agencies want to reinterpret the same conference documents to promote “access to safe abortion” as a human rights issue.

Consistent with this approach, the Nigerian warned against making abortion an official UN response to pregnancies in emergency situations, saying that it “creates the danger that women will be pressured to abort their babies.”

The most contentious issues in the debate, was a paragraph in the resolution that declared “access to safe abortion” as a human rights issue for only the second time in a General Assembly resolution. Both the United States and the European Union supported it.

Along with the Ambassadors of Japan and Sierra Leone who led the negotiations they repeatedly characterized this as “agreed language,” a technical term for non-controversial language routinely included in UN resolutions on a consensus basis. They overlooked the fact that the U.S. delegation voted against the same language only two years ago and it has been rejected repeatedly since. Similar language was also contentious in a close vote in a resolution at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in July.

The intense opposition the paragraph encountered may make it harder for the U.S. and European delegations to streamline the notion of “safe abortion” in other UN agreements.

Many of the same delegations who objected to abortion language also objected to language related to gender and veiled references to homosexuality and transgenderism.

The resolution replaced every reference to “sexual violence” and “violence against women” in the resolution with the term “sexual and gender-based violence.” UN agencies use this term to describe programs not just to end violence, but also to promote social acceptance of homosexuality and transgender issues.

The European Union was adamant that such programming is necessary during the debate on Friday.

“Discrimination fuels violence” said the representative of the Czech Republic on behalf of the European Union. “To ban violence we must ban all forms of discrimination… including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The Czech delegate spoke aggressively about the need to provide children with “comprehensive sexuality education” and to “pushback against the pushback” to sexual rights.

The lively debate in the General Assembly underscored the importance that governments afford UN policies, even though they are sometimes considered non-binding and the legal implications of the agreements are not always immediately clear.

In a revealing exchange before the meeting a U.S. representative told a group of activists in the Gallery of the General Assembly, including the Rise Foundation, that a standalone UN resolution on the rights of survivors of sexual violence was important because, if the language is repeated again in future resolutions, it can become binding as “customary international law.”

Ironically, in the official U.S. statement during the debate the same delegate said that in the adoption of the resolution the U.S. government “did not recognize any change to the state of customary international law.”