by Meghan Grizzle
This week, the General Assembly of the United Nations convened, as it does every September. Once again, leaders from around the world descended on New York City, causing the closure of streets on the East Side and major traffic jams. News media focused on the speeches of Barack Obama and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the major headliners.
For many Americans, this is one of the few times they hear about the UN. Most know about the Security Council and the struggles among the world’s greatest powers, and of course this year the conflict in Syria has led to questions about what the UN is going to do about it.
The typical American disregards—or is completely unaware of—almost everything that happens at the UN. To many, the UN is irrelevant because the U.S. is a sovereign state and, let’s face it, can get away with doing whatever it wants. This is the prevailing attitude of many Americans, and of conservatives in particular.
Yet the UN is much more than the Security Council and the opening speeches of the GA. It is time that pro-lifers begin to care about what goes on along the East River. Human dignity—and human life—is at stake.
The GA is broken up into various committees. The Third Committee is the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee. Third Committee delegates from all 193 Member States and states with Permanent Observer status meet to discuss issues on topics ranging from poverty to youth unemployment to maternal health to HIV/AIDS. Every spring, Commissions on Social Development, the Status of Women, and Population and Development produce documents presenting Member States’ commitments to these topics. Delegates also gather to negotiate influential documents during periodic conferences, such as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, held in Rio de Janeiro this past June.
States like the U.S. have hundreds of delegates available to monitor the various committees. However, small and developing countries may have just a few delegates who have to run from committee to committee. This means that they simply do not have enough time to follow everything that occurs in negotiations.
This is unfortunate, because many are not pleased with what results from these negotiations. With increasing frequency, delegates from the U.S., Scandinavian countries, and a broad collection of other States introduce “reproductive rights” language into any and every document. Although delegates from consistently pro-life States accept the term “reproductive health,” which is not defined to include abortion in any treaty or conference document, “reproductive rights” is widely understood to be code for abortion rights. The key to solving the spread of HIV/AIDS? Reproductive rights. The solution to environmental challenges? Reproductive rights. The number one resource needed by unemployed youth? Reproductive rights. The best way to make pregnancy safer? Reproductive rights.
Many small and developing countries recognize the value of every human life starting at conception. They see the West’s struggle with its demographic crisis and understand that every person has immense creative potential, and that that creativity is the greatest resource available to their countries. But delegates from these countries are bombarded with information from NGOs like the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the Center for Reproductive Rights. Women’s rights groups flood commissions and conferences. Further, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) issues report after report jointly with IPPF and even the Guttmacher Institute on the need for increased access to so-called “safe” abortion. Many organizations repeatedly make false claims about international law, going so far as to say that there is an international right to abortion. Treaty-monitoring bodies (TMBs), who have no binding authority, encourage countries to liberalize their abortion laws in order to meet their treaty obligations. Of course, no international human rights treaty even mentions abortion, and there is no obligation to make abortion available.
But overtaxed delegates do not have time to fact-check. They are usually not lawyers, and they do not always know the ins and outs of the major international human rights treaties. They hear from official UN bodies, from TMBs, and from well-funded and well-respected organizations and understandably rely on their pronouncements as fact. As a result, many countries bow to pressure and liberalize their abortion laws even though their citizens are overwhelmingly opposed to abortion.
This is why pro-lifers must pay more attention to what goes on at the UN. When pro-lifers dismiss the UN, they lose out on the opportunity to influence what goes on there. Lives are literally at stake. While those lives may not be Americans’, they are just as valuable. Yes, IPPF is a powerhouse, and there is an abundance of pro-abortion organizations at the UN, but small NGOs can do a lot to educate Member States’ delegates about how to meet their obligations, using reasoned arguments that are grounded in law. Pro-lifers need to monitor the initiatives of UNFPA and other UN agencies that surreptitiously or even openly promote abortion. Funding is also critical, especially for programs that provide effective alternatives to misguided and culturally inappropriate sex-ed and women’s health programs that are readily available through IPPF and its partners. Countries need programs they can turn to to meet their commitments but that do not violate their beliefs and customs.
Pro-lifers, now is not the time to give up on the UN. It is overrun by the abortion lobby, but Member States, in particular small and developing countries, are in need of your support.
Meghan Grizzle is the Research and Policy Specialist at the World Youth Alliance, an NGO that promotes the dignity of the human person at the United Nations. She has written several white papers on international law and policy, available at http://www.wya.net/research.