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Abortion Remains an Unresolved Issue: ICPD25 Meeting next Month

Osamu Kusumoto is Secretary General and Executive Director of Asian Population and Development Association (APDA)

TOKYO, Japan, Oct 9 2019 (IPS) - Currently, the topic of abortion as human rights leaves the world bustling. When the state of Alabama1 in the United States enacted a very strict ban on abortion, it shocked the world. This prompted so-called conservative movements, led by female business owners, to make a full-scale advertisement in the New York Times claiming abortion is a human right2 ; hence the global debate between pro-life and pro-choice.

Osamu Kusumoto

This discussion is a remnant of the debate at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994. Twenty Five years into the ICPD and the struggle between opposing views persists, causing the continued disruption in the accessibility of women to reproductive health. This is especially true in developing countries.

The purpose of this paper is to show that pro-life and pro-choice are actually following the same logical development despite failing to arrive at the same conclusion.

Current Status of ICPD and Reproductive Rights

As its name suggests, ICPD is a conference that places population issues in the context of sustainable development, which served as the basis of the current Agenda 2030. However, the population problem has been treated as a value and not a scientific issue. Following this paradigm, possible solutions are unattainable.

Efforts are being made to include abortion in the ICPD Programme of Action (PoA), particularly in paragraphs 5.5., 7.3. and 7.36, which defines Reproductive Rights. The principles behind such effort are that:

A) Reproductive rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognized in national laws, international human rights documents and other consensus documents.

B) These rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so.

The concept of the reproductive right is not included in the human rights defined by the UN CESCR.

Pro-choice advocates aim to expand the definition of reproductive rights in the ICPD PoA and position the right to abortion in 7.3, which refers to the number of and spacing of children. As such, the right to abortion is not an infringement to self-determination, which is central to the concept of human rights.

Pro-life advocates, on the other hand, regard abortion as infringing on the right to existence of another life, which is a gift from God.

However, it must be recognized that unplanned and unwanted pregnancies also happen. One case in point is the Yazidi girl who got pregnant as a result of sexual assault by members of ISIS. She was alienated from her community causing further victimization of the child. This is just one case and many more are happening in different parts of the world. Such abuse put women and girls in difficult position. How can this kind of problem be addressed?

The basis of human rights is respecting the dignity of human life as part of society regardless of one’s race, religion, or culture. Therefore, this contradicts the concept that abortion is a human right. Obviously, no matter how extensive the discussion on this problem could go, no logical solution can be reached. Ergo, it is meaningless to engage in an argument that will always end up in a stalemate.

Possible solution

Reproductive Rights as defined in the ICPD PoA intends to prevent pregnancy in situations where self-determination is not possible – these cases must be devoid of theological debates. Serious discussions and negotiations had been made during the formulation of the ICPD PoA and it can be assumed that a reasonable conclusion was drawn because it was adopted and ratified by many countries.

The debates on abortion may be addressed through a democratic decision-making mechanism. Unless the conditions for achieving reproductive rights are there, such as the meaningful empowerment of women, access to education, improved socioeconomic status, advancement in the field of health – especially in family planning – and full dissemination of reproductive health services, women cannot be held accountable.

Abortion is not a matter that should be recognized as a right yet, but it is an issue that should be treated with the utmost care. Appropriate medical measures must be put in place for situations where the conditions for reproductive rights cannot be met, resulting in an unwanted pregnancy. Otherwise, prolife means denying the life and dignity to human beings who are victims of circumstances.

The suggestion is to separate the issue of abortion from reproductive rights. This way, it will be possible to present a more realistic, reasonable and relevant solution that could be more commonly acceptable.


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  • RitaJoseph

    First, as one who participated in the ICPD Conference in Cairo, I can assure you that it was agreed unanimously that “In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning.” ICPD Programme of Action, para 8.25. This consensus was reached by the 184 UN member states at the Cairo Conference.

    The ICPD Programme of Action (1994) specifically excluded abortion from the term “family planning”: this same paragraph also required governments “to reduce recourse to abortion”. This was reaffirmed at the Fourth International Conference for Women in the Beijing Platform for Action (1995) para 106(k).

    Second, community education is our most valuable tool for eliminating attitudes of discrimination towards unborn children at risk of abortion, especially towards the children of rape.

    The author above is right to draw attention to the tragedy of the Yazidi girl who, pregnant as a result of sexual assault by members of ISIS, “was alienated from her community causing further victimization of the child.”

    Many other examples of unjust community condemnation of the innocent: the discriminatory attitudes reported in Maja Kirilova Eriksson’s Reproductive Freedom in the Context of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, (1999): “…children born as a product of violence were despised…”.

    We need to reform this appalling social climate in which irrational prejudice transfers public censure of rape to innocent children.

    It is a cruel folly that the injustice and evil of acts of rape are transferred to the pregnancies so that the unborn children themselves begin to be treated as unjust and evil and deserving of a death sentence.

    We work the problem (reform discriminatory attitudes towards rape survivors) –we don’t kill their innocent children.

  • Francisco Di Blasi

    I have worked for the Inter-American Parliamentary Group on Population and Development since its inception until 1997, as its Senior Advisor. In that capacity, I met Dr. Kusumoto as a member of the steering committee for several global conferences on population and Development. I admire the brilliant mind of this friend and former colleague. I welcome and congratulate him on his contribution.

    As a cultural Christian (I have rejected the dogma and outdated positions of all organized religions), but I remain a highly spiritual individual. I am also a former student of Science (Physics and Astronomy); therefore, I conclude that even in Science, it is easy to cross the line that separates reality from metaphysics and faith. Notably, our inability to comprehend and assign value to the cognitive concept of life. The problem is in placing the basic unit (the individual human being) in the context of infinity- infinitesimal- the origin of the Universe and eternity. In physics, we believe that absolute Zero temperature cannot be reached. We can jump from positive temperatures to negative ones. But Zero would mean that all movement of the particles in an atom must stop (just for discussion’s sake). We do not want to enter the fields of Einstein’s relativity Theory and Quantum Mechanics.

    So, my vision is to grant the individual woman and man the facility to exercise their sexuality, under-informed conditions and having access to all the possible means (all of which were not available when ALL MODEN ORGANIZED RELIGIONS WERE FOUNDED, so that they conceive a child as a wanted outcome, not an accident or an inevitable natural event.

    Those individuals wishing to be guided by their religious beliefs should have equally reliable and robust protection to exercise their sexuality with the sole purpose of reproduction. The fact remains, that when receiving regular general education and access to sex education and contraceptive methods, fertility rates drop because the desirable family size per-couple also drops. This behavior is a global fact.

    Then comes the issue or order of magnitude.

    The most vocal so-called defenders of life deny the inalienable right of the female to decide on carrying the pregnancy to completion or not, in absolute terms. However, it would not ensure the newborn equal access to primary care and a baseline of opportunity to survive based on prevalent statistical indicators in his/her place of birth.
    All human beings are created biologically equal, within well-defined orders of magnitude. The differences take place at the metaphysical level of their respective societies speculations about a creator, the purpose of life on earth, divine revelation, etc. On the other hand, in terms of assuring total equality to every human creature, in terms of survival and basic standards, the order of magnitude makes a significant jump.
    The best case takes place in the United States of America, and the current political arguments about taxation, equal opportunity at birth, and the pursuit of happiness measured in terms of “property rights.”
    I add a current element of invalidation about the priority of protecting fetuses. All life on the Planet is currently in danger. The recent fires in the AMAZON FOREST fueled by an America Corporation and an extremist Government are strangling 25% of the source of Oxygen for the eight million people on the Planet. Furthermore, the current US President recently lifted the ban on logging the pristine Alaskan Forest that provides 8% of the oxygen supply! Not to speak of natal morbi-mortality rates across demographic, national & international segments!



    New York City, October 10, 2019

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