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U.N. Adopts Measure Promoting Abortion over Member-Country Objections

United Nations logo at U.N. headquarters in New York City (Mike Segar/Reuters)

In an unprecedented move that earned reproach from some diplomats, the chairwoman of a U.N. commission recently forced the adoption of a measure that implicitly promotes abortion over the objections of more than one country.

The controversy erupted several weeks ago at the annual conference of the Commission on the Status of Women, but has largely gone unnoticed. There, the chairwoman, Irish ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, ignored objections by two countries and banged her gavel to adopt a document that promises “universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services” for citizens of member states.

The hearing on whether to adopt the “agreed conclusion,” which involves “a set of concrete recommendations for governments, intergovernmental bodies and other institutions,” came after weeks of negotiations. It was held at the U.N. headquarters in New York late on the evening of March 22, after translators had gone home. When Nason asked exhausted delegates whether any country had an objection, diplomats from both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain spoke, citing a slew of language dealing with sexuality and the family that “disregards important red lines” for them.

“We have made compromises. Regretfully, not all delegations have shown flexibility,” the delegates said. “It is not fair to try and force us to agree on compromises that are forced and quickly prepared.”

The two countries cited “multiple references to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights” in their objection. Bahraini delegate Mohamed al-Faris claimed that during the negotiation process he was “bullied and harassed” by high-ranking U.N. officials and senior Commission members, “in terms of threatening me to go back to my capital, talk to my royal family to pull me out of the negotiation.”

“This is not acceptable,” Al-Faris said at the time. “We urge [a] formal apology from the Commission.”

“I hear no objection. It is so decided,” the Irish ambassador responded as she banged her gavel.  The Bahraini and Saudi Arabian diplomats protested, but to no avail.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” a U.N. expert who advises members states on legal issues told National Review. The source characterized Nason as the “primary villain” in the situation who has “clearly dedicated her life and her work to advancing the abortion agenda at the U.N.”

A diplomat involved in the negotiation who requested anonymity to speak on the record called it a “very frustrating session.” “This has never been the way” such negotiations work, the diplomat said. “Everybody needs to be on board.” If even one country rejects the document, the diplomat added, it “automatically means that there’s no agreement.”

“Some other countries” had objections to the language in the measure as well, the diplomat said, but it was “also the way it was put on the table” that caused outrage.

The document in question promised, among other things, to “ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights” and to recognize “that the human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on all matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

“Although the United States was not a member of the Commission, we participated fully in negotiations participated fully in negotiations [surrounding the measure] and are sad to say the clear views of many delegations were not taken into account,” U.S. Ambassador for U.N. Management and Reform Cherith Norman Chalet said in a statement delivered at the March 22 hearing.

“The United States fully supports maternal and child health and informed and voluntary access to family planning” as well as “optimal adolescent health and locally driven, family-centered sex education,” Chalet said. But the measure “retains terms and concepts that remain controversial or unclear,” including “sexual and reproductive health,” “health care services,” and “health services,” which she said “have acquired connotations that promote abortion and attempt to create a claimed ‘right’ to abortion.”

“We do not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our women’s global assistance,” she said. “The United States does not accept these terms as they often encompass abortion as a method of family planning.” The U.S. also took issue with the language on “comprehensive education and sexual and reproductive health information.”

The Holy See, Guatemala, Comoros, Bahrain, Belarus, Cameroon, Djibouti, Libya, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Gambia, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, Sudan, Zambia, and Zimbabwe — many of whom have poor records on women’s rights — joined the U.S. in expressing concerns about the parts of the document dealing with abortion and neglect of the family, and with the faulty process that led to the document’s adoption.

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