May 2, 2014 (C-FAM) – France claimed abortion is a right under international humanitarian law at the U.N. Security Council last week even though the claim is widely viewed as far-fetched and inappropriate.
Abortion groups claim the Geneva Convention includes a right to abortion for victims of rape in situations of conflict. France, Israel, Lithuania and Estonia lent their support to these groups at the debate on Friday.
The “refusal of abortion is a violation of international humanitarian law,” said Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United Nations. He explained that this was an “especially dear” issue for France. A diplomat speaking for Israel lamented women giving birth to children conceived in rape. Few countries are on board though.
Prior to 2013, mentioning abortion in the Council chamber was unheard of. Countries instead focus on ending impunity and other preventive measures, as well as ending discrimination against victims of rape and their children.
A diplomat involved in the Security Council debate told the Friday Fax that abortion supporters raise the issue “where it just does not belong.” The Geneva Convention and its protocols have never been understood to include such a right. And there is no support within the United Nations framework to claim a right to abortion under any circumstance.
No U.N. treaty mentions abortion or can be fairly read as including abortion rights. The consensus among U.N. member states is that abortion is a domestic matter that should be left up to national legislation. The U.N. Charter forbids the United Nations to compel action by states except when the Security Council imposes sanctions or intervenes in conflict situations.
Last year the Security Council adopted a resolution that mentions sexual and reproductive health as part of humanitarian responses and another that mentions unwanted pregnancies. The U.N. Population Fund and abortion groups have interpreted the resolutions as mandating abortion as a humanitarian response. This year’s debate appeared to take a step back from the contentious interpretation.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lent his support to abortion as a humanitarian response last spring. He said it should be an “integral component” of humanitarian interventions, repeating as much in a report later in the summer. But this year he backtracked.
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In the report prepared by the secretariat ahead of Friday’s debate, abortion is no longer essential. The issue of children conceived in rape requires “further research and information,” it states.
Ban Ki-moon presented his report to the Council while a visibly pregnant woman at an advanced stage of gestation sat in the seat immediately behind him. He did not mention abortion or commonly used euphemisms like sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in his statement and his special envoy on sexual violence in conflict was equally silent about abortion.
The toned down approach reflects the reality of lack of consensus on this issue.
While abortion groups have been insisting in recent times for abortion to be part of humanitarian responses, humanitarian groups have not made that request. Abortion is likely to be unsafe if carried out in conflict situations where basic sanitation, health infrastructure and access to medicines are not good. And U.S. law actually prohibits foreign assistance from being used for abortions or abortion advocacy.
A 2011 U.N. report surveyed victims of rape in war torn areas and detailed their stated needs. They included security from violence, health, education, job education, social acceptance and other basic needs for both themselves and their children conceived in rape. The victims did not ask for abortion or sexual and reproductive health services.
Reprinted with permission from C-FAM