WASHINGTON, D.C., January 17, 2013, ( — The Obama administration told abortion advocates last week it will not be able to push for “sexual rights” in UN funding talks this spring because of the major setback to reproductive rights at last summer's high level UN meeting on sustainable development in Rio.

The opposition is “vocal and well-coordinated,” said Beth Schlachter, a population policy advisor from the State Department speaking at a Wilson Center event titled “Setting Development Goals for Population Dynamics and Reproductive Rights.” Schlachter opened by assuring that the Obama administration supports sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and reproductive rights (RR), and recognizes the need to link them to the controversial idea of “population dynamics” in the post-2015 development framework.  

The Wilson panel moderator Suzanne Ehlers, president of a global abortion rights group Population Action International (PAI), said the panel was initiated in the immediate aftermath of the Rio defeat.


Intersecting the term “population dynamics” with “reproductive health and rights” in international documents is a more recent strategy of reproductive rights advocates, though critics are concerned the controversial pairing is disguised population control and a means to create an international right to abortion.

“The U.S. delegation wants strong language linking sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights to development,” Schlacter said. In order to meet development goals – leaders of UN agencies like UNFPA, UN Women, and UNICEF must be firm and united on reproductive rights to effectively implement their mandate and programs, she continued.

Speakers at the Wilson event were in agreement that the 2015 development goals must include adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights that will “empower young people (ages 10-24) to make their own decisions.” 

International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) Communications director Kelly Castagnaro believes an “unparalleled opportunity” exists to advance “sexual rights” given the recent decision in Peru, which amended a law that prohibited sexual activity among minors.

While there is no international definition of “sexual rights,” the IPPF representative said the inclusion of the term would establish an international standard and hold governments accountable.

IPPF's critics say the group and its allies want the term undefined and vague so they can bully governments to change their laws on abortion, parental rights and LGBT issues.

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When asked when the Obama administration would include the term “sexual rights,” the State Department official responded that the recent setbacks indicated that there was enough resistance just trying to insert “reproductive rights” and that their efforts would remain on that until “sexual rights” appears in an outcome document.

Attention is focused on upcoming UN commissions to provide the background for the drafting of the 2015 sustainable development goals, particularly at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which failed to produce an outcome document last year. Member states rejected an aggressive push by the U.S. delegation on reproductive rights language.

The State Department official lamented that they could not go a second year without a final document at CSW and recognized the need for civil society to help “push them over the threshold” through social media and meeting with delegates from member states.

“We must work together for strong agreed to documents,” she said.

Reprinted with permission from


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