New York, October 31, 2003 ( – A UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) document, entitled “Unwanted Pregnancy and Unsafe Abortion,” calls for sweeping government reform to make abortion available to all women and adolescent girls without restriction, going as far as to suggest that governments should subsidize abortions and offer “redress” to women who have been “denied” access to abortions “that should be made available to them.” The document, which was produced in 2002 by UNESCO’s Thailand-based Regional Clearing House on Population Education and Communication (RECHPEC), has recently come to light after it was referenced in the UN Population Fund’s State of the World Population 2003 report, which was released this month. The UNESCO document explicitly recommends that “Governments should make abortion legal, safe, and affordable.” UNESCO appears particularly concerned about adolescents’ access to abortion, recommending that “Legislatures should remove legal restrictions to access of abortion and family planning services to adolescents” and that “Wherever the law allows, Governments should guarantee the privacy of those seeking abortion services, especially adolescent women.” UNESCO also recommends that, “Where abortion is allowed, the legal system should provide means of redress for those denied access to the services that should be made available to them,” without explaining what type of redress it has in mind. UNESCO takes aim at parental consent laws, stating that, “It is common, for instance, to require adolescents to obtain parental consent for abortion servicesâEUR¦This alone can dissuade an adolescent from seeking a proper medical procedure and leave them to seek alternative, illegal and unsafe abortions elsewhere.”

The document provides a candid view of attempts to increase access to abortion, apparently endorsing efforts to skirt domestic abortion legislation. In Bangladesh, for instance, “While abortion is illegal, the law does provide for ‘menstrual regulation’ services, whereby physicians can assist up to eight weeks after the last menstrual period. This is conveniently considered family planning and not abortion. Furthermore, as the anti-abortion law requires proof of pregnancy, ‘the use of menstrual regulation makes it virtually impossible to obtain the required proof.’ Thus, in practice, early term abortion is available; it is just referred to as menstrual regulation.” In India, “while abortion strictly on demand is not allowed, abortion for economic or social reasons is, and a very lenient reading of ‘mental health’ of the woman effectively legalizes the procedure in all circumstances.” In an accompanying document, entitled “Review of International Standards for Rights of the Child and Adolescent Rights,” UNESCO describes how to pressure individual nations that have not embraced this adolescent reproductive rights revolution, saying that it is now possible “to hold countries accountable on the basis of human rights violations” at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) and the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).