New UNFPA report twists the message of the ICPD Programme of Action

By Rebecca Oas, Ph.D. | December 3, 2015

Today, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched its annual State of World Population Report, focusing this year on reproductive health services in humanitarian settings. On the subject of abortion, the report says:

“Women and girls in humanitarian settings may be at increased risk of unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion due to higher levels of rape and disrupted contraceptive use due to displacement. Although national abortion laws and access to safe abortion care vary by country, 99 per cent of the world’s population lives in countries where abortion is permitted under certain circumstances; six States prohibit abortion under all circumstances.”

Obviously, this could be seen to imply that abortion is ubiquitously acceptable, which is easily disproven. But more importantly, it forms the basis for the argument that if abortion is legal even in one relatively rare instance (e.g. the woman’s life is demonstrably at risk), then the means and expertise to provide abortions must be readily available everywhere, just in case.

But if only six countries prohibit abortion absolutely, how many countries allow it with equal totality? Most countries – even those frequently described as allowing abortion on demand – still require some sort of justification, even if the stated grounds are frequently stretched to the point of meaninglessness (see the UK and the frequently-abused mental health exception). In 2014, the Daily Caller commented on a report finding that only seven countries, including the United States, allow abortion past 20 weeks of gestation, and two of those have 24-week bans. That leaves only five countries: China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Canada, and the U.S. And even the U.S. has restrictions on abortion in law, although they vary at the state level.

In short, most of the world’s governments think abortion needs to be regulated, and the widespread use of gestational limits reveal that factors involving the well-being of the unborn child, as well as the well-being of the mother, are deemed worthy of being considered.

To return to the UNFPA report:

“Post-abortion care is a life-saving service that prevents death and illness from complications of miscarriage or abortion. UNFPA’s policy on abortion is guided by the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development: where abortion is legal, it should be safe. Where it is illegal, post-abortion care should be available to save lives.”

The ICPD did specify that whether abortion is legal, and under what circumstances, should be left to national governments. But the last line about post-abortion care implies that it is only needed where abortion is illegal. Going back to the ICPD Programme of Action, here is the relevant passage:

“Any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process. In circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be safe. In all cases, women should have access to quality services for the management of complications arising from abortion. Post-abortion counselling, education and family-planning services should be offered promptly, which will also help to avoid repeat abortions.”

Notice that phrase: “in all cases.” The 1994 ICPD document correctly points out that complications arise from abortions that are legal, and that abortion may not be “safe” for the mother even where it is legal – hence the statement that it “should be.”

Given that UNFPA’s mandate is to implement the ICPD Programme of Action, as adopted by the UN member countries twenty years ago, it’s important to pay attention to how, even in subtle ways, they twist its agreed language to promote a pro-abortion agenda by implying that legal abortion is “safe” and therefore necessary.