Countries Oppose UNFPA’s Attempts to Control Outcome of Commission on Population and Development


Extended coverage of the 47th Session of the Commission on Population and Development–ICPD Beyond 2014  

Editor’s note. This report comes from the PNCI—the Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues. For more on the outcome, see “United Nations Commission on Population & Development continues to push for abortion worldwide,”

PNCI-03The 47th Session of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD47) ended its marathon meeting at the United Nations in New York on the theme “Assessment of the Status of Implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development” this past Saturday morning. CPD#47 takes on added importance as UNFPA plans to use the outcome document to promote the inclusion of identified issues in the post 2015 agenda.

The ICPD Programme of Action (PoA) was agreed to by 179 governments in Cairo in 1994 after intense debate which included the failed effort to promote ‘universal access to abortion’ and ‘international access to abortion on demand’.  During review of the PoA at CPD#47, controversial issues were inserted into the draft outcome document which many countries considered to be unacceptable “red lines”. Included was an attempt to express support for “access to safe, legal abortion” with no recognition of the Cairo language acknowledging the need to follow national law; this ploy failed. Another was to include the undefined term “sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)” but this too failed as many countries insisted on language from ICPD on “sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights”.

The meeting progressed in a manner experienced UN observers expected with the United States, EU, Israel, Australia, and other western countries pushing the agreed boundaries to “move forward” and deal with the “emerging issues” identified in the Framework of Actions for the follow-up to the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development Beyond 2014, (which contains 193 references to ‘abortion’) and ICPD regional review meetings which contained strong language advancing “sexual and reproductive health and rights”.

UNFPA had its own plans for the meeting which are revealed in its Advisory Note for the CPD meeting.

This 10 page advisory for UNFPA country coordinators spells out the importance of the meeting and the need to avoid ‘negative comments’ that oppose its agenda:

“The 47th session of the CPD is a crucial challenge for UNFPA, which will provide the intergovernmental support for the findings and recommendations of the ICPD beyond 2014 review and the linkage of the ICPD agenda to the Post 2015 Development Agenda. The objective of the review is to ensure that the findings and recommendations of the review serve as the major reference point for discussing, implementing and monitoring population and development policies and programmes beyond 2014. Any opposition or negative reaction in statements during the CPD or the failure to secure support for a supportive resolution will undermine the entire objective of the review and UNFPA’s ability to secure the inclusion of ICPD issues in the Post 2015 Development Agenda.”

Debate over negotiating a substantive resolution, or not, consumed many hours as delegations objected to the Chair’s decision to pursue a substantive text, contrary to last year’s agreement that there would only be a procedural resolution. UNPFA stated in its advisory, “While the bureau of the CPD is still consulting with Member States on the outcome of the 47th session, there is a strong likelihood that consensus will be reached with the Africa Group and other delegations that are opposed to a resolution, to agree to a resolution.”

The note also reveals: “…the Secretary-General will prepare an index report capturing the key issues identified by Member States in the CPD as crucial for further implementation of the POA for the General Assembly Special Session on the follow up to the Programme of Action of the ICPD beyond 2014, which will be held on 22 September, at the level of Heads of State and Government.” 

The September 22 meeting will be extremely important to countries who opposed the advance of UNFPA’s agenda at CPD#47.

Pro-life and pro-family NGOs were rightfully concerned with the extreme nature of the ICPD Beyond 2014 regional review outcomes that had been held around the world and to which many countries issued reservations. UNFPA had orchestrated these meetings, in partnership with IPPF and similar NGOs, to garner support for its radical agenda and stated in the Note:

“The regional review conferences, held at ministerial level, led to breakthroughs on issues such as sexual and reproductive health and rights; non-discrimination, in line with Principle 1 of the Programme of Action; unrestricted access to services and information by young people, especially adolescent girls; eliminating child or early or forced marriages; contraception; family planning; and abortion among many others, which constitutes regional action plans for those regions.”

Acknowledgement of these regional plans was a UNFPA priority for CPD while many countries opposed any positive recognition or affirmation of the outcomes; a compromise was reached:

OP17. Takes note of the outcome documents from the recent regional conferences on Population and Development and that each outcome provides region-specific guidance on population and development beyond 2014 for each respective region which adopted that particular outcome document;”

Read more about the regional meetings here, here, and here.

UNFPA through its country offices also worked “with national counterparts to ensure the composition of delegations that understand fully and support the ICPD agenda and support their participation in all CPD and related activities, as appropriate.” It was rumored at CPD that UNFPA had paid all expenses for ten country delegations to attend the meeting, including small Pacific Island countries which spouted UNFPA positions during negotiations.

Of even greater concern is the ploy by UNFPA to influence the outcome document by influencing country statements. It advised UNFPA country offices: “The statements of Member States should be strategic and support key messages attached in the annex of this note to ensure that the index report of the Secretary-General captures the action-oriented recommendations supporting the ICPD beyond 2014 review findings and recommendations.” Observers of CPD heard delegations reading statements that appeared to come straight from the UNFPA’s playbook, and they did.

Included in UNFPA’s issue messaging was a call to overturn laws against abortion– reaching beyond its mandate:

  • Governments are encouraged to remove legal barriers preventing women and adolescent girls from access to safe abortion, including revising restrictions within existing abortion laws, and where legal, should ensure the availability of safe, good-quality abortion services, in order to safe guard the lives of women and girls.
  • Give highest priority to strengthen the structure, organization and management of health systems, including sexual and reproductive health care to ensure universal access to quality, sexual and reproductive health services and commodities.

Delegations with laws that protect preborn children and their mothers from the violence of abortion or that restrict abortion–only 58 countries allow abortion on demand–were careful to oppose any new language on abortion.  OP12 in the final outcome document contains previously agreed language on abortion from Cairo and from Cairo+5, including that which recognizes the seriousness of abortion and the need for counseling for women who are experiencing an unexpected pregnancy as well as new language on the prevention and treatment of infertility which a number of countries had recognized as a reproductive health issue for women:

OP12. Further urges Governments and development partners, including through international cooperation,… prioritize universal access to sexual and reproductive information and health-care services, including family planning, prenatal care, safe delivery and post-natal care, especially breastfeeding and infant and women’s health care, emergency obstetric care, prevention and appropriate treatment of infertility, quality services for the management of complications arising from abortion, access to reliable information and compassionate counselling for women who have unwanted pregnancies, reducing the recourse to abortion through expanded and improved family planning services and, in circumstances where abortion is not against the law, training and equipping health-service providers and other measures to ensure that such abortion is safe and accessible, recognizing that in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning…”

Countries also insisted that diverse religious values and cultural backgrounds be affirmed along with sovereignty:

“OP2. Also reaffirms the sovereign right of each country to implement the recommendations of the Programme of Action or other proposals in the present resolution, consistent with national laws and development priorities, with full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of its people, and in conformity with universally recognized international human rights;”

Countries and NGOs made official statements at the CPD Plenary which can be found here and included a few surprises.

The official statement of the Pacific Island nation of Papua New Guinea included:

“I am pleased to inform this meeting that my Government has committed record funding of nearly USD10 million (K25million) this year for sustainable development initiatives including partnering with the United Nations to make available forty thousand contraceptive implants as an important intervention measure for the health of our women and girls of child bearing age. This will be scaled up to USD20 million (K50 million) by 2015.”

Response to the outcome document included pro-abortion criticism. Amnesty International’s statement reads in part:

“The conditions attached to the provision of some of these services are of concern, however, such as ensuring accessible and safe abortion services only when abortion is not against the law. Also of concern is the support for restrictions placed by cultural and religious values while providing health services to adolescents. Such conditions are proven barriers to access to sexual and reproductive health services, leading to serious human rights violations. They are inconsistent with the international human rights obligations of states.”

Pro-life laws were defended at CPD including by Poland which stated: “It is important to underline, that in our understanding any reference made to the sexual and reproductive health and rights does not constitute an encouragement to the promotion of abortion on request. According to Polish law abortion on request is illegal.” 

Malta’s statement included: “Malta believes that the right to life extends to the unborn child from the moment of conception, and that therefore the use of abortion as a means of resolving health or social problems is a denial of that right.”

The Holy See issued a strong statement upholding the dignity of life which included:

“… the Programme of Action in no way promotes abortion, but expressly repudiates it as a mean of controlling families or the population. The ICPD denies that it creates any new rights in this regard.  Such laws and policies remain the prerogative of individual Member States according to the Programme of Action. All States emphasized at Cairo that Governments should help women avoid recourse to abortion. The Holy See continues to serve at the front-line addressing greater global poverty, human rights and development. Through its presence and emphasis on providing quality and affordable education, health care, access to food and respect for all human rights, the Holy See demonstrates that care and compassion for the poor, rather than focusing on fertility reduction, serves as a model for a truly human-centered approach to development.”

PNCI recommends that lawmakers monitor their country’s participation in the General Assembly Special Session on the follow up to the Programme of Action of the ICPD beyond 2014, to be held on September 22, 2014 in New York.