Countries Struggle To Agree On Abortion And Comprehensive Sexual Education

On 7th April 2017 in New York, following lengthy negotiations, the UN’s Commission on Population and Development ended late without any official decisions. The 50th Session of the Commission on Population and Development came to a surprise conclusion when it was unable to adopt a resolution on its theme of “changing population age structures and sustainable development.” The focus on promoting policies to address youth and ageing seem unaccepted by many countries. Many member states and their chairs, for example, the State of Qatar, worked hard to adapt the text to something that everyone could support without controversial policies or reservations.

Countries committed to the promotion of abortion and comprehensive sexuality education prioritized the promotion of these policies over achieving a consensus document. In light of this, Ambassador Alya bint Ahmed Al Thani of Qatar withdrew the text. Ambassador Al Thani’s effort throughout the Commission was greatly appreciated by everyone.

Following the announcement that there would be no resolution for the second time in three years, Nigeria—speaking on behalf of the Africa Group—stated that it had exercised flexibility to accept the final compromised proposal under discussion and regretted that the final proposed text was not acceptable to other delegations. The Caribbean Community also indicated that it would have accepted the final text under discussion at the end of the day.

However, Finland—speaking on behalf of the European Union—indicated that they would only have accepted an earlier draft, which included references to reproductive rights and comprehensive sexual education. These terms refer to abortion and often explicit sexual education programs. France—speaking for a coalition of western countries as well as several from Latin America—expressed its disappointment that the Commission could not agree to adopt its views on reproductive rights and comprehensive sexual education, and described sexual rights as being “at the heart of development.”

These extreme positions clearly do not reflect global consensus, but they do reflect the negotiating positions of several states and groups, sometimes despite national laws that contradict what they are promoting. Likewise, these positions do not reflect the consensus of the document that the Commission is tasked with implementing, which explicitly states that any policy related to abortion must be decided at the national level. In its national statement, Russia expressed its concern that the Commission was being used as a “back door” way to promote concepts such as reproductive rights and comprehensive sexual education that do not have consensus. “It is unfortunate that European and other countries were so committed to the promotion of abortion and sexual rights that they could not come together to find a path forward to address human development.”