UN Development Goals for ‘Reproductive Health’ Would Increase Abortions Globally

The goals include language for ‘sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning … and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programs.’

U.N. flag outside the United Nations headquarters in New York
U.N. flag outside the United Nations headquarters in New York (photo: CNA/United Nations photo via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

WASHINGTON — The United Nations’ global development goals for the next 15 years still contain language that is all but certain to be used to increase access to abortion worldwide, say pro-life advocates.

“We are profoundly concerned,” Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., told CNA in an interview about the agenda. “This is being launched by the heads of state as a transformative document. And it’s supposed to be the agenda for the next 15 years, for the entire globe, including the United States: for the developing world and for the developed world.”

The Sustainable Development Goals are part of the United Nations’ comprehensive development plan for the next 15 years to fight poverty, end world hunger, fight human trafficking and promote sustainable energy. They are a continuation of the original 15-year Millennium Development Goals set in 2000 to “reduce extreme poverty” worldwide.

The language for the goals was finalized Aug. 2 in an outcome document and will be voted on this September at the U.N. General Assembly — right around the time of Pope Francis’ address to the assembly on Sept. 25 in New York City.

The goals set a broad global development agenda, but are broken up into smaller targets to achieve this development. And it is here that the problematic language is hidden, pro-life advocates say, because while many of the outcome document’s goals are laudable — such as ending poverty and hunger — two specific targets could enable a massive expansion of abortion access worldwide.

Target 3.7 lies under the overall goal “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.”

The target states, “By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programs.”

Target 5.6 sits within the goal, “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”

The target states, “Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences.”

The language of the targets — “sexual and reproductive health-care services” and “sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights” — has been commonly acknowledged in the past to include abortion access.

Many U.N. agencies and Western donor countries, including the U.S., interpret the language to include abortion access, a former diplomat at the U.N. and a participant in numerous negotiations involving sexual and reproductive health language told CNA in June.

And even though the two programs mentioned in Target 5.6 — the Beijing Platform for Action and the ICPD Program of Action — limit the push for abortion access to remain within national laws and regulations, donors can still wield their influence here.

The donors will tie development funding to conditions that largely pro-life developing countries must liberalize their abortion laws, the former diplomat explained.

Other politicians and diplomats have conceded that the “sexual and reproductive health” language includes abortion access.

Back in 2001, at a preparatory committee meeting for the drafting of the U.N. document “A World Fit for Children,” the head of Canada’s permanent mission to the U.N. stated outright that the “services” for “reproductive health care” included abortions.

And in 2009, former U.N. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Smith at a congressional hearing that the United States’ definition of “reproductive health” does include abortion access.

The chief of staff for then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan told Smith in 2006 that the language does not include abortion, but only “after a very, very long pause,” the congressman recalled.

And regardless of what Western diplomats have already said, the biggest problem with the targets is the ambiguity of the text, Smith pointed out. Wealthy donor countries can easily interpret “reproductive health-care services” to include abortion. And poorer countries rely heavily on their development funding.

“To most of the world, especially the developing world, the U.S. is like a life-or-death situation for them,” Smith said. “If they have refugees, they need refugee money. And to the developing world, the U.N. is almost like another government, if not a major government, for them.”

Countries such as Liberia, which recently experienced a health-care crisis with the spread of Ebola, are very dependent on foreign aid, Smith said.

“The funding is going to be such a pressure, because these are the countries that need the help to continue to reduce maternal mortality, child mortality,” explained Marie Smith, founder and director of the pro-life outreach group Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues.

Those countries objecting to the language, Malta and some African countries, including Nigeria, were ignored at the documents’ Open Working Group in 2014.

“It all really finalized last July [2014] with the Open Working Group,” Marie Smith said. “And after that time, Nigeria and a number of countries, even Malta, were objecting to ‘reproductive rights.’ But the gavel was just brought down, with over 20 countries still wanting to object and issue reservations.”

Those reservations did not stop when the outcome document was finalized on Aug. 2, and the language remained there, she added.

“This whole concept of the sustainable development goals and targets really do not have universal agreement. And the countries’ reservations really are not accounted for in any way. So there still are broad differences.”

“I’ve been to these conferences many times,” Smith said. “The governments practically plead for changes in text, and the co-chairs and their staff decide what’s in and what is out. So there’s no democratic process whatsoever.”

After the language for the goals is voted on in September at the U.N. General Assembly, indicators will be crafted to measure the progress of countries in achieving these goals. This is where the big push for abortion could make headway with donor countries tying aid to the progress that developing countries have made with respect to the indicators.

The World Health Organization will be “helping write these indicators,” Smith said. They openly support increased access to abortion worldwide and are very much relied upon in developing countries, he added.

The organization is not shy about its support of abortion. In the executive summary of its report “Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems,” it states that, “to the full extent of the law, safe abortion services should be readily available and affordable to all women.”

“This means services should be available at primary-care level, with referral systems in place for all required higher-level care,” the report added.

“WHO has credentials, and now they have integrated abortion into their agenda,” Smith said.

And other groups implementing the goals have done so as well. “If you look at all the organizations and read their own webpages,” he said, “these are the terms that they use, and it has clear definition to them, and they will be part of the implementation brigade.”

Pro-abortion, non-governmental organizations like the International Planned Parenthood Federation have pushed for the language to remain in the goals, Marie Smith noted.

In a statement on its website, IPPF said that the goals are “important because they will guide national policy-making and budget prioritization.”

They added that “we’ve been fighting for inclusion of universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights in the SDGs. Half of all the anti-poverty targets are focused on sexual and reproductive health and rights which proves that these rights are critical to global development.”

“There is a will not to unravel the package of goals and targets, and upset the political balance, which is good news, as there is a target for sexual and reproductive health under the health goal and reproductive rights under the gender goal,” the organization continued.

The Vatican has responded to the development goals with seemingly mixed messages.

On June 22, the apostolic nuncio to the permanent observer of the Holy See to the U.N., Archbishop Bernardito Auza, supported the “verbatim inclusion of the Sustainable Development Goals and targets.”

Yet he added, “We would oppose the imposition of targets and indicators on countries and peoples whose laws and values are contrary to them” — the imposition of targets increasing abortion access in countries with pro-life laws, for example.

“With this in mind, we would need to address how reservations of delegations contained within the Report of the OWG will be reflected in the outcome document,” he added. This statement was made well before the final document was finished Aug. 2.

On Tuesday, however, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations criticized the goals for pushing access to abortion.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said the U.N. is acting as if, “with abortion, that is, with ‘reproductive health,’ you can help eliminate underdevelopment.” That is akin to thinking that through “eliminating people there would be fewer problems,” he added.

Smith believes the language will enable a massive, unprecedented push for abortion access worldwide.

In “40 years in the pro-life movement, 35 as a member of Congress,” he said, “I have never seen such a well-orchestrated effort to promote abortion.”