UN Agency Drafts Blueprint for Unrestricted Access to Abortion

By | April 9, 2021

WASHINGTON D.C., April 9 (C-Fam)  Last week, the UN’s women’s agency and the government of Mexico co-hosted an online forum to commemorate 25 years since the launch of the Beijing Platform for Action on women’s rights.  Activists promoting abortion and “sexual rights”—elements that were rejected at Beijing—took advantage of the tightly-curated forum to ensure their agenda was included in the draft “blueprints” that emerged.

The Generation Equality Forum, which has been described as a tightly controlled “champions-only space,” showcased the work of six “action coalitions,” one of which focused on “bodily autonomy and SRHR.”  The draft blueprint presented by this group was explicit in its agenda: “support removal of restrictive policies and legal barriers, ensuring 50 million more adolescent girls and women live in jurisdictions where they can access safe and legal abortion by 2026.”

Other targets included delivering comprehensive sexuality education to 50 million girls and “increas[ing] the quality of and access to contraceptive services” for 50 million women and girls, in which “access” is measuredin relation to an “assumed rate of change in voluntary contraceptive use.

“So heartening that abortion [is] fully included,” tweeted Françoise Girard, former president of the International Women’s Health Coalition, one of the leading organizations in the SRHR “action coalition.”  Girard added that this was “not ultimately surprising given its leadership” but was “still a discussion.”  She applauded the Generation Equality Forum for “leapfrogging empty debates to spur change!”

Mere days before, the UN’s annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) concluded with a negotiated consensus document that, once again, excluded controversial elements such as a right to abortion, comprehensive sexuality education, explicit references to LGBT issues, and the umbrella term “sexual and reproductive health and rights” (SRHR), which is widely understood to include all of those things.

In contrast, the “Generation Equality Forum” is run by the agency UN Women rather than the UN’s member countries, and outcomes it generates are not decided on the basis of consensus.  Postponed from last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the forum consists of the March event in Mexico followed by a June summit in France, where the draft blueprints will be finalized and countries and other stakeholders will be invited to make concrete commitments in support of women’s rights.

The forum is similar to the summit held in Nairobi in fall of 2019 to commemorate another seminal UN event of the mid-1990s: the International Conference on Population and Development.  The Nairobi Summit was directed by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and set out a nonbinding set of targets and commitments through a largely stage-managed process.

A progressive sexual rights sentiment was echoed by multiple participants in the forum’s panel discussions, where consensus-driven debates like the recent CSW were spoken of dismissively in favor of forums in which UN agencies and like-minded civil society organizations can set a pre-determined agenda and then pressure governments to comply with it.

While such outcomes are understood to have less normative weight than a consensus among countries, they gain traction through financial and policy commitments, like those that will be announced in France later this year.  While countries with pro-life and pro-family laws and policies have an equal vote in the General Assembly, they tend to be poorer than their counterparts in Europe and North America.  These wealthier countries fund the UN agencies that then convene forums in which they pledge further contributions to advance an agenda that the General Assembly has firmly rejected for 25 years—a benchmark the UN is unlikely to commemorate with a high-level conference.