By Samantha Singson
NEW YORK, August 23, 2007 (C-FAM.org) – In recent months abortion advocates have championed a document called the Maputo Plan of Action as a regional victory in Africa in their work to achieve a universal right to abortion.
While proponents of the Maputo Plan of Action present the document as a consensus document of the African Union (AU) the truth is far different. High level government officials have told the Friday Fax that AU heads of state have never approved the document and that trickery and deception were used by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and others to push the document through various AU meetings.
Discussed at an AU special session of health ministers in September 2006, The “Maputo Plan of Action for the Operationalization of the Continental Policy Framework for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights” is a non-binding three-year action plan that calls for AU member states to “enact policies and legal frameworks to reduce incidence of unsafe abortion” and to “prepare and implement national plans of action to reduce incidence of unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortion”.
According to sources familiar with the special session, several delegations objected to the abortion targets and indicators contained within the draft Plan of Action and only gave their approval to the draft on the understanding that the abortion provisions would be removed from the text. They were assured by the chairman of the meeting that those changes would be made in the final draft of the Plan of Action.
But the changes were never made. When delegates later realized that the abortion provision had not been removed, several said they felt “manipulated” by the AU secretariat.
The Maputo Plan of Action was then put on the agenda at the AU council meeting in January 2007 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. While it was discussed by AU permanent representatives and foreign ministers, it was dropped off the agenda for the Heads of State meeting after Uganda’s president said he would speak out against the abortion articles. The AU heads of state neither discussed nor approved the Maputo Plan of Action at the meeting.
The Ugandan delegation tried again to speak out against the Plan of Action’s abortion provision at the regular AU health ministers meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa in April 2007. Sources at the meeting tell the Friday Fax that the Ugandan representative was shouted down by the chair and told that the Plan of Action was not on the agenda as it had already been approved by the AU heads of state, which was false. At least seven other AU members aligned themselves with Uganda’s position.
While the Maputo Plan of Action is non-binding and its legitimacy as a consensus document remains highly controversial, experts warn that the targets and indicators on abortion will still be used to increase pressure on AU member states to amend their laws on abortion and used to measure “states progress” which is commonly done when international institutions assess a country’s suitability for receiving financial assistance.
UNFPA has already announced that it will use the controversial document for its own programmatic purposes.