Will Abortion Fight Overshadow Food Security Agenda at Upcoming UN Population Commission?

By | March 12, 2020

NEW YORK, March 13 (C-Fam) During what would have been the first week of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, cancelled due to the coronavirus epidemic, negotiations are beginning on the outcome document of the upcoming Commission on Population and Development (CPD).

The fifty-third session of the commission, scheduled for later this month, has been scaled back because of the pandemic, and countries are being told not to send delegations to New York.

While side events for civil society have been cancelled, negotiations will continue behind the scenes during the weeks leading up to the conference.  The theme for this year’s meeting is “population, food security, nutrition, and sustainable development.”  Despite the theme, as in past years, the initial draft of the outcome document indicates the biggest disputes will likely be about abortion.

The draft contains several references to “sexual and reproductive health” and “reproductive rights,” which remain controversial due to their association with abortion.  In the recent political statement adopted by the Commission on the Status of Women, such references were absent, much to the dismay of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

The “zero draft” from this year’s CPD refers to “sexual and reproductive health” and “reproductive rights” as “central to the realization of social justice and to the achievement of global, regional and national commitments for sustainable development.”

During a planning meeting, this year’s commission chair, Luxembourg, proposed two days of meetings on March 30 and 31, featuring delegates already in New York, and some panel discussions to be made available by webcast.

Prior to the distribution of the initial draft of the agreement, member states urged the chair to stick to previously agreed language and keep controversial elements out, in the interest of saving time in the scaled-down conference.  The chair was also asked to qualify references to previous conference outcomes “in accordance with national laws and internationally agreed human rights.”

One delegate professed hope that the theme of nutrition would be good for generating consensus, as it is not very controversial in itself.

There is broad consensus that access to good nutrition is essential, and a high-priority global goal.  According to the latest newsletter from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, current food production is sufficient to feed the world’s population, but because of inadequate distribution and unhealthy diets, many people suffer from malnutrition-related health problems.

The expansion of global food production disproved the doomsday “population bomb” scenarios of the 1960s and 1970s.  However, growing concerns about human impact on the environment, including from agricultural activities, have led to a resurgence of Malthusian concerns about overpopulation.  The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs suggests “slowing down population growth” alongside changes to consumption patterns as ways of addressing environmental concerns.

However, the office’s optimism regarding the former is limited: “But for all the progress we have made in reducing the global pace of population growth, it is still projected to continue growing until the year 2100.”

Meanwhile, advocates looking for language acknowledging the role of the family in advancing global development and building food security will be disappointed thus far: the “zero draft” only refers to “family” in the context of “family planning.”