GENEVA, October 17, 2012 (C-FAM) – The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva inched closer to asserting abortion as a human right earlier this month when it passed a resolution endorsing a controversial new set of guidelines on maternal mortality. The guidelines were crafted with input from abortion advocates and reflect a view rejected by nations at the UN General Assembly.

The resolution, sponsored by New Zealand, Burkina Faso, and Colombia, endorsed a “technical guidance” paper by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that includes abortion under the term “sexual and reproductive health rights.”

While the resolution was adopted without a vote, 20 of the 47 council members submitted written opposition to accompany the text when the UN General Assembly considers it for adoption later this month.

“The whole text [of the resolution] is focused on the dissemination and application of a document that has never been negotiated by states or evaluated to determine its utility,” and that “promotes new rights not defined in international human rights instruments and declarations, mainly the reference to ‘sexual and reproductive health rights’,” objected opponents.

Nations defined “sexual and reproductive health” and “reproductive rights” in the non-binding document from the 1994 UN Conference on Population and Development at Cairo. Council members reminded their colleagues earlier this month, however, that there is no international consensus on “sexual rights.”

The opposition statement was authored by African and Arab nations. Guatemala co-sponsored the resolution but made a general comment stressing that the resolution does not create any new rights. Mauritania withdrew support for the resolution citing the reasons stated by the opposition group.

In 2007, a group of international abortion advocates joined forces to create a “right to maternal health” including abortion. Members of the group claimed that it achieved that goal when the Human Rights Council (HRC) mentioned maternal health and human rights in a 2009 resolution. This month’s resolution was the fourth iteration of the HRC’s maternal mortality resolution. The new technical guidance paper it endorses reflects an approach to maternal health rights that the UN General Assembly rejected in 2011 when presented by the UN Special Rapporteur for Health, but which has the support of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

Pillay released the technical guidance after soliciting input from non-governmental organizations. It hews closely to recommendations made in 2011 and 2009 by top abortion rights advocacy groups including Amnesty International, International Planned Parenthood Federation, Ipas, and the Center for Reproductive Rights. The guidance rejected other recommendations such as input from pro-life groups and those advocating protection of the rights of conscience for health providers.

Amnesty International, which has worked closely with officials in Burkina Faso since 2009, said the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights should use this technical guidance to challenge “sensitive” issues that “have an impact on the realization of rights to sexual and reproductive health. These include criminalization of abortion, and denial of access to safe and legal abortion services and information.”

Council members opposing the resolution said, “A human rights-based approach to maternal mortality and morbidity has to respect the sovereignty of states … with full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of its people, and in conformity with universally recognized international human rights” which so far does not include abortion.

Reprinted with permission from