By Nita Bhalla
NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Ten countries – including the United States, Brazil and Egypt – criticised a global conference on sexual and reproductive health on Thursday, saying it promoted abortion and sex education.
Heads of state, financial institutions and donors were among the 9,500 delegates in Nairobi this week to address maternal mortality, violence against women and voluntary family planning.
But 10 of the United Nation’s 192 member states said they did not support the International Conference on Population and Development’s (ICPD) use of the term “sexual and reproductive health and rights” as it could be used to promote abortion.
Valerie Huber, senior policy advisor with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said not all countries had been fully consulted ahead of the event, organised by the United Nations, Denmark and Kenya.
“There is no international right to abortion. In fact, international law clearly states that everyone has the right to life,” said Huber.
“We cannot support sex education that fails to adequately engage parents and which promotes abortion as a method of family planning,” she said in a joint statement on behalf of the group.
In 2017, President Donald Trump reinstated a decades-old, U.S. government policy that restricts international aid to charities that support abortion.
The so-called global gag rule has forced the closure of health clinics, outreach programs and refugee services by charities, risking the health of millions of women, reproductive rights experts said.
Sexual and reproductive rights campaigners said the U.S.-led statement was discouraging with women’s rights already threatened by far-right, populist rhetoric across the world, including moves to restrict abortion in the United States.
The ICPD conference marks 25 years since a landmark summit in Cairo when nations agreed to address issues such as maternal health, violence against women and equal opportunities.
Every day, more than 800 women die from preventable causes during pregnancy and childbirth, according to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA). More than 230 million women want to prevent pregnancy but are not using modern contraception.
One in three women globally have faced some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the UNFPA.
Organisers of the Nairobi summit denied any suggestion the event was exclusively focused on abortion or sex education.
“I believe their statement is based on some misunderstandings of what this is about,” IB Petersen, Denmark’s special envoy for the ICPD, told a news conference.
“This is not a pro-abortion summit – it is about the ICPD program of action – abortion is part of that.”
Petersen said the summit had already yielded results, citing a pledge by Kenya to end female genital mutilation by 2022.
Almost $10 billion in investments has also been pledged by countries – including Britain, Norway, Germany and Denmark – and a host of private organisations.
The UNFPA estimates countries need about $264 billion to end maternal deaths, gender-based violence, child marriage, and provide family planning to all women by 2030.
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Claire Cozens and Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)