UN Women: Advancing Abortion in the Name of Equality
Tuesday, February 11, 2020

UN Women has been organizing events and initiatives to mark the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, where despite intense pressure from the US delegation, led by then First Lady Hillary Clinton, abortion was not recognized as a so-called international human right in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995. UN Women is now working to go beyond Beijing in promotion of unfettered access to abortion.

It has established a Global Equality Forum, along with Mexico and France as co-sponsors, and announced the designation of six action areas it believes are needed to achieve equality including access to abortion under “Bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)”.

UN Women explains that each issue area will be promoted by “Action Coalitions”:

“Each Action Coalition will be led by a group of partners, including: Member States, women’s movements and civil society organizations and the private sector, as well as UN agencies, other international organizations and youth leaders.

“Each Coalition will develop and implement targeted solutions that advance the rights of adolescent girls and young women during the UN Decade of Action (2020 – 2030) to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The action area for “Bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)” appears to be a direct attempt to advance the pro-abortion extremism that has continually been rejected during negotiated UN meetings. A look at the decision making body for the Global Equality Forum, known as the Core Group, and its advisory board, removes any doubt about the abortion nature of the Forum. One of the five members of the Core Group is the Director of Advocacy and Policy for International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), an organization that works “to expand the availability and quality of safe abortion services as part of comprehensive reproductive health policies and programs”.

Members of the Civil Society Advisory Group which assist the Core Group to ensure “that civil society’s priorities are reflected in the Forum’s outcomes” contains representatives of leading pro-abortion organizations such as Ipas, ARROW, AWID, and FEMNET. The description for the Senior Policy Advisor from Ipas who is a member of the Advisory Group states that she “focuses her advocacy and energy into advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, including and especially the right for every women and girl to access safe abortion care, regardless of her circumstance.”

A news article in All Africa not only confirmed that the expression “bodily autonomy” refers to abortion but it revealed the strategy to use the Equality Forum to advance the SRHR agenda. In the report, Purnima Mane, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), lamented what she called “inadequate progress and sometimes downright rollback of women's right to exercise bodily autonomy through the right to abortion”.

She acknowledged that the UN has been limited in its work on abortion because abortion is not included in human rights treaties which she said was as a result of significant opposition from many quarters, including the work of the United States. She stated what pro-life advocates know to be true, "Besides, these treaties are not legally binding and some countries specifically see these issues as covered by domestic law." However, she explained that the UN often provides platforms to integrate women's rights more broadly, including the “right to bodily autonomy” which can be seen in this latest effort by UN Women. 

An Equality Now leader, Antonia Kirkland, is also quoted in the news article explaining that UN Women’s choice of “bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health rights” as one of the Generation Equality Forum's six Action Coalition themes “is a good sign that attention and resources are being focused in this direction and can hopefully help counteract moves towards greater restrictions on access to abortion in countries like the USA, as well as forced pregnancy and motherhood in Latin American countries".

Kirkland lamented that “there has been an alarming and sustained rollback on women's sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world” and she believes that the focus on bodily autonomy “is about shining a much-needed spotlight on the systematic oppression that continues to prevent women and girls from exercising self-governance over their own body and reproductive choices.”

The composition of the leadership group for each Action Coalition will be made by the Core Group and announced on International Women’s Day, March 8th, 2020, and highlighted at the High-Level Event on Generation Equality during CSW 64.

The Forum will meet in Mexico City May 7-8, 2020 and culminate in Paris, July 7-10, 2020. NGOS, including IPPF, Marie Stopes International, EngenderHealth, Center for Reproductive Rights, PAI, European Youth Network on Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YouAct), and Women Deliver have written a letter to French President Macron asking him to have France take a leadership role in advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights at the Global Equality Forum and at the United Nations.

The letter includes:

“The Generation Equality Forum will be the feminist gathering of the year, tackling a host of gender-equality themes. Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, which are regularly excluded from multilateral negotiations, must be the focus of one of the special coalitions for action scheduled for launch in July 2020. Such an initiative is all the more meaningful in the context of the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Conference…

SRHR are a source of diplomatic tension. It takes significant effort to drive them up the international agenda. In this regard, France is ideally placed as the organising body to lead a SRHR coalition in the context of the Generation Equality Forum. In addition, the other States which have taken a stance on this issue are less influential. Lastly, such action could subsequently have a significant impact on a large number of Francophone countries whose SRHR indicators are among the most alarming in the world.  

…When the time comes to make a decision, we are asking you personally to ensure that France heads up a SRHR coalition at the Generation Equality Forum.”

UN Women is also being criticized for the “bodily autonomy” theme by women’s groups from around the world who are opposed to legalization of prostitution and who are dissatisfied by the process behind the choice of the themes. They believe that the decision-making process “has been dominated by Western organizations favoring decriminalization of prostitution”. They fear that it will be used to push for the “legalization of the global multi-billion-dollar sex trade and redefine prostitution as labor”.