By Katharina Rothweiler

NEW YORK, NY, June 19, 2009 (C-FAM) - The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC), meeting this month in Geneva, Switzerland, has adopted a resolution on maternal mortality and human rights that relieves concerns pro-lifers had during the early stages of negotiations.  

The battle over the final text concerned two points: how broad a reference to “sexual and reproductive health” would the document contain, and whether member states would retain oversight over a report on maternal mortality from the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) called for by the resolution.

As Patrick Buckley, who covered the Geneva conference on behalf of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), told C-Fam’s “Friday Fax,” the reference to “sexual and reproductive health” is qualified by placing it in the context of the right to enjoy “the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health,” and does not expand the meaning of the phrase nor create any new rights.

Member states have consistently rejected attempts to include a right to abortion within the term “reproductive health.” New United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stoked concerns that the Obama administration would push to expand the UN definition when she testified before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the United States House of Representatives that she understood “reproductive health” to include abortion.

The second concern was over the report on maternal mortality. Originally, member states were to be shut out from providing input, which was to be left solely in the hands of the OHCHR and UN agencies including the World Health Organization, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). These agencies have sought to link “universal access to reproductive health” – a broad term abortion advocates claim includes a right to abortion – with maternal mortality reduction.  

Member states debated and rejected including a “reproductive health” target when they adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000. UNFPA representatives in particular have nevertheless openly stated that adding a “reproductive health” target under the maternal health MDG is essential to increasing global legitimacy and funding for the reproductive rights agenda.  

The HRC resolution retains the agreed-upon language where it explicitly references MDG 5, which it limits to “improving maternal health.” This can be seen as a victory for pro-lifers who lobbied delegates on the document language.

The involvement of the pro-abortion Center of Reproductive Rights, an abortion advocacy public interest law firm, in promoting this month’s HRC resolution had also raised red flags.

Critics contest any linkage between abortion and maternal mortality reduction. Buckley stressed that “Maternal mortality stems from poor nutrition, lack of basic health care such as adequate pre- and post-natal care, transportation et cetera, rather than lack of legal abortion.”

The HRC is an inter-governmental body within the UN system comprised of 47 states founded by the General Assembly to promote and protect human rights at the international level. The final HRC resolution is expected to be presented to the full UN General Assembly this autumn, where it will be voted on by all major states.

(This article reprinted with permission from