UNFPA Flagship Report Promotes Individual “Bodily Autonomy”

By | April 15, 2021

WASHINGTON D.C., April 16 (C-Fam) The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched its annual flagship report with the theme of “bodily autonomy.” In keeping with what has become common practice among UN agencies, it advances an extreme agenda on abortion and other controversial issues.  Moreover, it increasingly relies for support on documents that do not have the consent of the world governments that make up the General Assembly.

Despite making “bodily autonomy” its central theme, the UNFPA report admits that the term has “a broad and sometimes ambiguous meaning,” and has not been formally defined in any negotiated document. They say, however, that it has “gained further prominence” in 2019 at the Nairobi Summit, a conference tightly controlled by UNFPA.

Certain aspects of the report address uncontroversial topics, including the right to exercise informed consent when receiving health care, and freedom from torture, physical or sexual assault, or forced marriage.  However, alongside these the report includes abortion, “comprehensive sexuality education,” assisted reproductive technologies including gestational surrogacy, “sex work,” and transgender-related medical procedures, all of which are highly controversial.

“Each of us has a right to bodily autonomy,” the report states in its introduction, only to later acknowledge that international treaties and declarations “provide foundations” for such a right. Later, it calls “bodily autonomy” a “foundation upon which human rights are built,” though “it is rarely articulated as a right in and of itself.”

Building on this uneven foundation, UNFPA draws selectively from the outcome of the International Conference on Population and Development, which in 1994 established the agency’s core mandate, but ignores the clear statement in that abortion was solely for member nations to determine.  For support, the report cites the work of treaty monitoring bodies, whose opinions are not binding on any state.

The radical individual autonomy envisioned by UNFPA goes far beyond freedom from physical violence.  It entirely dismisses the fact that abortion claims the bodily integrity of the unborn child, through dismemberment and death, in the name of preserving the bodily autonomy of the mother. Additionally, to the extent that abortion requires health workers to provide medications or administer procedures, the autonomy of those workers, and their conscience rights, are deemed to be of lesser importance.  UNFPA quotes the opinion of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural rights, which calls for the ending of conscientious rights to abortion.

UNFPA acknowledges that when it comes to issues like prostitution and gestational surrogacy, “Human rights law does not provide definitive answers,” and rights-based arguments “have been invoked to support both prohibition and legalization.”  However, the report shows its hand by including lengthy stories about a surrogate from Mexico and two women selling sex from Indonesia and North Macedonia that frame these issues in a very positive light and insist that their choices were entirely voluntary.

These stories, as well as stories about abortion and transgender identity, are framed as examples of empowerment.

Recent years have seen a widening divide between the consensus of UN member governments in the General Assembly and the various bureaucratic bodies that have become increasingly unaccountable.  UNFPA is currently working on a three-year strategic plan that this report will no doubt inform: the latest indication that UNFPA is now—quite autonomously—setting its own agenda.