By Samantha Singson
(NEW YORK, May 31, 2007 (C-Fam.org) – On Friday the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) will conclude its latest round of two-week meetings in New York, having questioned six out of the eight countries under review on their abortion laws. As in previous sessions, CEDAW Committee members used the question of maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence to bring up the issue of abortion in Mauritania, Mozambique, Pakistan, Serbia, Sierra Leone and Syria. Notably, two delegations took the opportunity to push back.
Abortion is not mentioned in the treaty, but delegations often go along with the committees’ line of questioning on abortion by providing data and answering queries on the subject during their reviews. During this round of talks, however, delegations deviated from the routine by making statements in stark contrast to the committee’s argument. The delegate from Pakistan, undergoing its first review, told CEDAW that “abortion is considered murder once a fetus is conceived,” and then stated that abortion was illegal in her country except to save the life of the mother.
When committee members criticized Sierra Leone for low contraceptive prevalence, the delegate responded that in Sierra Leone there was a prevailing cultural belief that “children were a gift from God.”
At variance with the dialogue behind the chamber doors during country reviews, CEDAW committee members maintain officially that the treaty is abortion-neutral. At a public meeting during the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) last March, CEDAW Committee Chair Dubravka Simonovic stated that the CEDAW Convention contained no references to abortion. In response to NGO questions about the CEDAW provisions on health and family planning, Siminovic said that “there is nothing about abortion in the treaty” and stressed that “the CEDAW Committee is very careful because we have to keep in mind the 185 States Parties and it is up to them to implement the provisions of the Convention.”
At a joint panel discussion with Center for Reproductive Rights and others during the same CSW session, however, Simonovic stated that she believes abortion rights are “in the spirit of the treaty.”
As one of only seven nations which have not ratified CEDAW, the US has become a lightning rod of criticism from radical feminists and abortion rights NGOs at the UN. In Washington, CEDAW proponents take the opposite tack, insisting that the treaty is silent on abortion. The American Bar Association, which urges US ratification of the treaty, argues that “CEDAW does not address the matter of abortion and, according to the US State Department is [sic] ‘abortion neutral.’ Many countries in which abortion is illegal – such as Ireland, Burkina Faso and Rwanda – have ratified CEDAW.” In fact, Ireland was pressured by the CEDAW to legalize abortion during its last two reviews in 1999 and 2005, as was Burkina Faso in 2000, and Rwanda in 1984 and 1993, which was its last report.
The CEDAW Committee will reconvene on July 23rd to review the reports of the Cook Islands, Belize, Brazil, Estonia, Guinea, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Korea and Singapore.