Same Old, Same Old; Abortion and LGBT at UN Conference

By Rebecca Oas, Ph.D. | March 16, 2018

NEW YORK, March 16 (C-Fam) Diplomats and activists from hundreds of countries descended on one of the largest cities in the world to discuss the situation of rural women and girls at the UN’s two-week Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

While the focus topic changes each year, the intractable struggles that persist to the end are inevitably around abortion and the definition of the family; this year seems unlikely to be different.

Early in this year’s CSW, the announcement came that the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would be replaced by Mike Pompeo, currently serving as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  As the Friday Fax reported earlier this week, Pompeo has a strong pro-life and pro-family record during his time in Congress.

At the same time, the U.S. delegation was very persistent in advancing  the pro-life positions of the Trump administration. Additionally, the delegation has been welcoming of the support and input of pro-life and pro-family civil society organizations.

The controversial issues around abortion and homosexuality have historically been linked at the UN within the broader “sexual rights” agenda.  In the pivotal conferences of the 1990s on population and development and women’s rights, homosexuality was too contentious to be mentioned, while abortion was included with the strong caveat that it was not a human right and countries were free to define their own laws limiting it.  But in recent years, LGBTs have become aggressive and generally with the backing of western governments and the UN Secretariat.

This week, at a town-hall meeting with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, a transgender activist from Samoa called on him to ensure the explicit inclusion of LGBT-identified people in UN documents.  Oddly, the issue of abortion was raised by a “queer feminist” activist from Nigeria.  Malta, Canada, and the Netherlands co-sponsored a side event on SOGI issues.  One panelist, a Canadian parliamentarian and advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on LGBT issues urged attendees to lobby their governments to ensure that “robust sexual minority education be baked right in to the curriculum” and that school boards support gay-straight alliances, “and that includes in Catholic school boards.”

Another hotly contested issue at CSW is “comprehensive sexuality education,” (CSE) in the wake of a recently-released technical guidance from several UN agencies.  While some activists lamented the fact that CSE was not mentioned during a high-level ministerial roundtable on education this week, a parallel event on CSE titled “Without abortion it’s NOT comprehensive” left no doubt as to the reasons member states have fought hard to block CSE from UN resolutions.

At the event, a panelist from the Guttmacher Institute reported that even in schools with wide-ranging sex education curricula, the abortion issue was frequently taught in a “moralizing,” “stigmatizing” context, admitting that there is no system in place to ensure that teachers who oppose abortion for moral reasons present it in a positive light.   A panelist from abortion advocacy group Ipas called for governments to support curricula that train students to turn around and lobby those same governments to liberalize their abortion laws.

At the end of the event, the same Samoan activist from the Secretary-Genera’s town-hall meeting urged the abortion movement to look to the transgender movement for ideas on how to advance their cause: “Link with us! Hide under the big umbrella that is the LGBTI rights!”