NEW YORK, March 10, 2011 (C-FAM) – A stunned UN audience listened as a Chilean diplomat told them “Respecting human life is the key to reducing maternal mortality,” and rebuked those who would promote legalized abortion as a solution to preventing maternal mortality.

The Chilean was speaking at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, an annual two-week conference that draws scores of abortion advocates. Even though the theme of this year’s Commission was education, science and technology, abortion still dominated much of the debate.

The Chilean diplomat spoke out against abortion during a discussion on reducing maternal mortality.  Chile’s representative cited a recent study that found that after Chile banned therapeutic abortions in 1989, maternal mortality in Chile decreased by 88 percent.  “Legislation that protects the life of unborn children does not increase maternal mortality,” she told the assembly. 

“The reason for Chile’s decrease in maternal mortality is the promotion of safe pregnancy, not [the promotion] of abortion,” she stated.  The promotion of safe pregnancy in Chile takes the form of programs aimed at supporting the mother and child’s health during pregnancy, birth, and through the first 5 years of the child’s life.  Chile’s delegate called the idea that the legalization of abortion will lead to a decrease in maternal mortality “fallacious,” and so directly challenged the international community’s conventional wisdom.

At the same event, Norway presented the view on preventing maternal mortality that normally characterizes UN debates.  “We’re not serious about maternal health if we fail to also promote and support access to safe abortion and liberalization of abortion laws,” Norway told the assembly.  He blamed a lack of respect for women’s right to control their own body and sexuality for the slow of progress of all the Millennium Development Goals.  Norway’s delegation, however, presented no facts to support their claims.

Abortion made its way into another Commission on the Status of Women discussion on violence against the girl child.  During this event, the Holy See delegation spoke out against sex-selective abortion.  Prenatal sex selection, a form of violence against the girl child that often goes overlooked by many policymakers, is estimated to be the reason for 100 million missing baby girls, the Holy See told the assembly.

“Recognition of the intrinsic dignity and worth of girls from the moment of conception onwards is the way to eliminate discrimination and violence against women,” the Holy See delegate said to the international community, citing the agreed conclusions of a previous Commission that urged states to combat prenatal sex selection. 

The Commission also saw a spirited debate about the meaning of the word gender. Some in the UN system define gender as a social construct, though the UN General Assembly defines gender in the more typical way as “male and female.”

The Commission on the Status of Women is one of several UN Commissions that meet from January through the spring. The Commissions produce non-binding documents that are later taken up by the General Assembly.

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