UN Spokesman Dismisses the Need for UN Agreement on Abortion

By | April 4, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. April 5 (C-Fam) The chief spokesman for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recently told an audience in Washington DC that his agency is sponsoring a negotiating session in Kenya because they cannot find agreement among the UN Member States in New York.

Arthur Erken said, “the reason we stayed out of the UN context is indeed, because we realized, trying to get some kind of agreement at the UN, at this point, don’t even bother.”

Erken was discussing the decision to host a forthcoming international conference on population and reproductive health issues in distant Nairobi, Kenya rather than in New York at UN headquarters.

Erken spoke dismissively about the lack of consensus for “sexual rights” and other controversial issues, implying that wealthy donors and being “on the right side of history” would be sufficient to overcome all opposition.

The UNFPA director of communications was alluding to the decades of stalemate over concepts like “sexual rights” and the increasingly controversial nature of “sexual and reproductive health” and “reproductive rights” in UN resolutions, due to their ties to abortion.

“But it’s also not needed,” Erken went on. “Because you can bring in a coalition together and stay the course.  You are on the right side.  Don’t be afraid for opposition.”

Erken was addressing the audience at an event hosted by the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. looking back at the quarter century since the landmark 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo.  The event, co-sponsored by Planned Parenthood, was focused on making ICPD relevant to the youth of today.

For years, UNFPA has increasingly opted to eschew the UN context, where their agenda lacks consensual support, and sponsor regional or thematic conferences where smaller groups in more far-flung places are more likely to adopt language that would be rejected in a truly global forum.

This approach has led to controversy at the UN over the reference to “review conferences” of ICPD, which could be interpreted to include not the follow-up conferences occurring at five-year intervals, but also the regional conferences held in 2014. Diplomats argue that they should not be accountable for decisions reached by countries in different regions.

It was at ICPD when UN member states agreed that abortion was not a human right, and that its legal status was to be determined at the country level.  Language on “sexual rights” was also rejected, as it was seen as encompassing homosexuality.

Erken expressed disappointment at the way his opponents had been able to tie the phrase to “the sexual orientation issue,” thus rendering it controversial.  “Sexual rights are for all of us, it has nothing to do with your sexual orientation per se.” He immediately hedged: “Or, it has everything to do with sexual orientation, for that matter.”

The younger panelists at the Wilson Center, including a woman who started a hotline to provide abortion information to women in Pakistan where it is broadly illegal, expressed concern over the lack of funding for youth-led advocacy for “sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

Erken acknowledged their point and said that UNFPA largely funded civil society organizations as “service providers, not as activists,” and said discussions were underway to “get back to” funding them for advocacy purposes.

As for UNFPA itself, while acknowledging the Trump administration’s decision to defund the organization, he took a more smug tone:  “Some partners have pulled out of the reproductive health field, but UNFPA has more money than ever.”

The U.S. remains the largest single donor of family planning in the world.