Monday, February 28, 2005

U.S. Says Women Are Not Guaranteed a Right to Medical Care

Under the auspices of the United Nations, the Fourth World Conference on Women was held ten years ago in Beijing. The purpose of the conference was to advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of all humanity. More than 180 governments signed its Platform for Action, an agenda for women's empowerment.

The areas of Strategic Objectives and Action identified in the Platform are:

1) Women and Poverty

2) Education and Training of Women

3) Women and Health

4) Violence against Women

5) Women and Armed Conflict

6) Women and the Economy

7) Women in Power and Decision-making

8) Institutional Mechanism for the Advancement of Women

9) Human Rights of Women

10) Women and the Media

11) Women and the Environment

12) The Girl-child

In 2000, a follow-up meeting to the Beijing conference (the Beijing +5), a special session of the United Nations General Assembly, was convened at United Nations headquarters in New York to review progress achieved and obstacles remaining to full implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.

The participating governments reaffirmed their commitment to the goals and objectives contained in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and to the implementation of the 12 critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action....

A document was issues after this follow-up meeting on [f]urther actions and initiatives to implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action:

The Beijing +5 Outcome Document strengthened commitments to eradicate harmful traditional practices, including so called 'honour killings', forced marriages and female genital mutilation. Among other things, it also called upon governments to eliminate gender discriminatory legislation by 2005 and create greater access to affordable treatment and care for women and girls living with HIV and AIDS.

In particular, in the area of Women and Health, the Beijing +5 declaration (.pdf, page 9) notes:

Achievements. ... There is: increased attention to high mortality rates among women and girls as a result of malaria, tuberculosis, water-borne diseases, communicable and diarrhoeal diseases and malnutrition; increased attention to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights of women as contained in paragraphs 94 and 95 of the Platform for Action, as well as in some countries increased emphasis on implementing paragraph 96 of the Platform for Action;


Obstacles. ... While some measures have been taken in some countries, the actions contained in paragraphs 106 (j) and 106 (k) of the Platform for Action regarding the health impact of unsafe abortion and the need to reduce the recourse to abortion have not been fully implemented.

That was then. This is now:

Starting Monday, a high-level U.N. meeting attended by over 100 countries and 6,000 advocates for women's causes will be taking stock of what countries have done to implement the 150-page landmark platform of action adopted at the 1995 U.N. women's conference in Beijing to achieve equality of the sexes.

But even before the two-week meeting began, delegates were wrangling behind closed doors Friday on a draft declaration that the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women put forward - and had hoped to have adopted by consensus before Monday's opening session.

The short declaration would have nations reaffirm the Beijing platform and a declaration adopted with it, welcome progress toward achieving gender equality, stress that challenges remain, and "pledge to undertake further action to ensure their full and accelerated implementation."

And this is were the U.S. government runs into a problem:

But at an informal closed-door meeting on Thursday, the United States said it could not accept the declaration because of its concerns that the Beijing platform legalized the right to abortion as a human right, according to several participants.

On Friday, the United States proposed an amendment to the draft declaration that would reaffirm the Beijing platform and declaration - but only "while reaffirming that they do not create any new international human rights, and that they do not include the right to abortion," according to the text obtained by The Associated Press.

Since abortion is a basic medical procedure, it appears the United States government is saying that it cannot accept a declaration affirming women's right to proper medical care. Surely this can't be right. Or can it? You be the judge.

Here are the references to abortion in the Women and Health section of the original Beijing declaration (emphasis mine):

  • Adolescent girls are both biologically and psychosocially more vulnerable than boys to sexual abuse, violence and prostitution, and to the consequences of unprotected and premature sexual relations. The trend towards early sexual experience, combined with a lack of information and services, increases the risk of unwanted and too early pregnancy, HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as unsafe abortions.

  • Unsafe abortions threaten the lives of a large number of women, representing a grave public health problem as it is primarily the poorest and youngest who take the highest risk. Most of these deaths, health problems and injuries are preventable through improved access to adequate health-care services, including safe and effective family planning methods and emergency obstetric care, recognizing the right of women and men to be informed and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice, as well as other methods of their choice for regulation of fertility which are not against the law, and the right of access to appropriate health-care services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant.

  • Recognize and deal with the health impact of unsafe abortion as a major public health concern, as agreed in paragraph 8.25 of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development;

  • In the light of paragraph 8.25 of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, which states: "In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning. All Governments and relevant intergovernmental 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. Prevention of unwanted pregnancies must always be given the highest priority and every attempt should be made to eliminate the need for abortion. Women who have unwanted pregnancies should have ready access to reliable information and compassionate counselling. 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 circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be safe. 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", consider reviewing laws containing punitive measures against women who have undergone illegal abortions;

  • Since unsafe abortion is a major threat to the health and life of women, research to understand and better address the determinants and consequences of induced abortion, including its effects on subsequent fertility, reproductive and mental health and contraceptive practice, should be promoted, as well as research on treatment of complications of abortions and post-abortion care;

  • It would be instructive to know what exactly the government finds unacceptable:

    -- A desire to reduce the risk of unsafe abortions?

    -- A desire to prevent the grave public health problem of unsafe abortion through improved access to adequate health-care services?

    -- Recognizing and dealing with the health impacts of unsafe abortion?

    -- An effort to reduce the recourse to abortion and even to eliminate the need for abortion?

    -- Insuring women have access to quality services for the management of complications arising from abortion?

    -- Services aimed at helping women avoid repeat abortions?

    -- A proposal to review laws containing punitive measures against women who have undergone illegal abortions?

    -- Research efforts to understand and better address the determinants and consequences of induced abortion, and on treatment of complications of abortion care?

    So much access to proper medical care to restrict, so little time.


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