Main Committee Vice Chair Nicolaas Biegman chaired the day's discussions on Chapters VII and VIII.
CHAPTER VIII -- HEALTH, MORBIDITY AND MORTALITY: Biegman opened discussion on paragraph 8.25 (abortion) and urged delegates to move swiftly on this issue to show the world and the media that this Conference is not about abortion, but population. He added that the media has highlighted the issue of abortion because it can be grasped by the public, is easy to write about and is a very emotional matter. The purpose here, he said, is not to delve on the ethical or moral dimensions of the question but, rather, to concentrate on the medical aspects of unsafe abortion. Delegates addressed most of their comments on the alternative version of paragraph 8.25, which was originally proposed by the EU at PrepCom III.
Over 85 delegations took the floor to comment on this paragraph, and their views were quite divergent. Three general positions emerged. Norway opened the debate by saying that his delegation's position had been to keep the original version of paragraph 8.25, but that he would listen carefully to what the other delegates had to say before electing to support the new version or to uphold the earlier draft. Many other delegates, including South Africa, Canada, Finland, the US, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Estonia said that they preferred the original 8.25, but would agree to the new one in order to reach consensus. Among those who indicated support for the alternative paragraph 8.25 were the EU, Australia, Japan, Paraguay, Cte d'Ivoire, the Philippines, Burkina Faso, Brazil, India, Cape Verde, Malawi, Mali, Bolivia, Panama, Austria, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Slovenia, Mexico, Malaysia, Costa Rica, China, Liberia, Kenya, Peru, Solomon Islands (on behalf of the Pacific Island States), Papua New Guinea, Niger, Vietnam, Tunisia, Tanzania, Cyprus, Nepal, Chad, Colombia, Venezuela, Senegal, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. Some of these delegates suggested minor modifications in terminology.
Substantive amendments to the alternative paragraph 8.25 were suggested by several delegations. Barbados tabled an amended version, which said that Governments should not have recourse to punitive measures and access to reliable health care services should be provided. This amendment was supported by the Caribbean States, Benin, Zambia, Canada, the US, Nigeria, Swaziland, Kenya, Bangladesh and others. Suriname, on behalf of the Caribbean States, indicated that the amendment would be withdrawn if there was consensus on the alternative draft for paragraph 8.25.
Pakistan suggested opening the paragraph by stating that in no case should abortion be promoted as a family planning method and to urge Governments, IGOs and NGOs to work for the reduction of the incidence of abortion through expanded and improved family planning services. He suggested deleting the last two sentences of alternative paragraph 8.25. This amendment was supported by Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia and Egypt.
Zimbabwe suggested that the last sentence of the original 8.25, which deals with post-abortion counseling, education and family planning, be retained in the alternative draft. This position was supported by a number of countries, including Cyprus, Zambia, Zaire, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Vietnam.
Ecuador rejected the new draft altogether, arguing that, in essence, it still favored and granted a stamp of approval to abortion. The Chair noted that neither this paragraph nor the whole text is in favor of abortion, however, illegal abortions are carried out and this is a medical problem that must be faced. The Holy See said that it could only accept the alternative draft as a basis for reaching consensus, but that it still had a problem with endorsing a situation with which it, and other delegations, still have fundamental difficulties. Malta accepted alternative 8.25 as a basis for discussion, but had reservations regarding the terms "safe" versus "unsafe" abortion and wanted to delete the last sentence. The latter point was supported by Honduras and Argentina. El Salvador, supported by Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, suggested removing the qualifiers before the term "abortion" and replacing "legal" with "permitted or allowed." The EU reported that, after consultations, it could accept the amendment made by Zimbabwe.
CHAPTER 7 -- REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS [SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH] AND FAMILY PLANNING: The Chair announced that he would start with paragraph 7.1, which gives the definition of reproductive rights and reproductive health. If the Committee could reach agreement on the brackets around the term "fertility regulation," numerous other brackets could be removed from the text.
The EU announced a new proposal so the sentence would read: "Implicit in this last condition are the right of men and women to be informed and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of fertility regulation, noting that the formulation and implementation of population policies, including those on reproductive health, is the sovereign right of each nation, consistent with national laws and in conformity with international human rights standards, and which methods are of their choice...." South Africa supported the EU and added that reference to human rights should appear earlier in the text. The US supported the EU, but thought the amendment would be better placed at the beginning of the paragraph.
Jamaica, supported by The Gambia and Suriname, made a similar proposal, which would insert the following after "fertility regulation" -- "with due regard for local laws and practices and in accordance with human rights and ethical standards." Brazil, Turkey and Canada said they could accept either the EU's or Jamaica's proposal. Pakistan and Iran said they could support either the EU or Jamaica, but requested that reference be made to religious beliefs, after the reference to national laws. While they preferred the use of the term "family planning," they could live with "fertility regulation." Peru agreed with the latter point.
The Philippines argued that "fertility regulation" should be replaced by "family planning." Benin supported this and added that the term "reproductive health," as translated into French, does not make any sense. The Dominican Republic, Libya, Honduras, Argentina, Peru, the Holy See and Malta also supported the Philippines.
Malaysia largely supported the EU's proposal, but also wanted to replace "fertility regulation" with "family planning."
Nigeria insisted that abortion is not considered part of fertility regulation and that family planning is a broader term. The WHO commented that, according to its working definition, family planning is one of the methods of fertility regulation, which also includes delaying childbearing, the use of contraception, treatment of infertility, interruption of unwanted pregnancies and breastfeeding.
Swaziland, Latvia and China supported keeping the text as is. Costa Rica proposed "fertility regulation or family planning, in accordance with the sovereign right of each State."
Indonesia preferred the Philippines proposal, but could agree to the EU proposal if two amendments were made.
In the title of the chapter, South Africa and Latvia preferred the use of sexual and reproductive health. Iran supported deleting the phrase "sexual health."
After a break of over an hour, the Chair apologized to the more than 24 delegations on the speakers' list and made a new proposal. He said that the concept of fertility regulation originally was placed in the text because the PrepCom had asked the WHO for its definition of reproductive rights, which includes this term. If the PrepCom had drawn up its own definition of reproductive health, different language might have been used. Therefore, the Chair proposed that the phrase read: "...means and methods of their choice to do so..." and delete all reference to fertility regulation or family planning. Benin supported this proposal, if reference to conformity with national legislation and religious beliefs was incorporated into the text.
CHAIR'S PROPOSAL FOR PARAGRAPH 8.25: The Chair then postponed further discussion of his proposal for paragraph 7.1 and dropped another "bombshell" in the form of a new text for paragraph 8.25. He distributed the text and gave delegates time to review and, hopefully, accept it. The text reads:
"In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning. All Governments and relevant inter- governmental and non-governmental organizations are urged to strengthen their commitment to women's health, to deal with the health impact of unsafe abortion as a major public health concern and to reduce the recourse to abortion through expanded and improved family planning services. Women who have unwanted pregnancies should have ready access to reliable information and compassionate counselling. Prevention of unwanted pregnancies must always be given the highest priority and all attempts should be made to eliminate the need for abortion. In circumstances in which abortion is legal, such abortion should be safe. Any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process. In all cases women should have access to quality services for the management of complications arising from abortion. Post-abortion counselling, education and family planning services should be offered promptly which will also help to avoid repeat abortions."
The Chair asked countries to comment. Pakistan, Norway, Benin, Barbados (on behalf of the Caribbean Group), Sweden, Iran, Bangladesh, the US, Germany (on behalf of the EU) and Zimbabwe indicated various reservations about the proposal but were willing to accept it in the spirit of compromise. The Holy See stated that while the text was much improved, they were not prepared to accept it and found the phrase, "In circumstances in which abortion is legal," difficult. There were cries of "no" throughout the room. The Chair suggested replacing "legal" with "permitted," but the Holy See asked to postpone further discussion. Benin took the floor and said that this is an international conference and no delegation should prevent others from speaking freely. Delegates responded with applause. The Chair announced that there was no point in continuing at this stage and adjourned the meeting at 9:30 pm.
[Return to start of article]