UN CSW: debating women’s reproductive rights or a “culture of death” ?
by Rosalie Fransen
"In a cynical ploy, conservative religious groups based in the Global North now frame reproductive rights advocacy in the Global South as the neocolonialist imposition of a uniquely western value system.
After more than a year of legislative debate, on March 18 Chile’s parliament decriminalized abortion in three extreme cases: when the woman’s life is in danger, when she has been raped, or when the foetus is diagnosed as unviable. Chile’s decision, made under the progressive leadership of President Michelle Bachelet shrinks the number of nations that forbid abortion under all circumstances to five. However, anyone who works in the area of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights knows better than to assume inexorable forward progress.
At this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the usual tension in intergovernmental negotiations on the inclusion of reproductive rights in the Commission’s consensus outcome document was intensified by a hardening of conservative positions on the family around the world. Parallel civil society discussions saw growing assertiveness and complexity in the arguments used by conservative groups advocating for restrictions on women’s reproductive rights. Recent events such as the spread of the Zika virus in Latin America raise the stakes in international debates on women’s right to terminate pregnancy. So too does the much-anticipated imminent release of Pope Francis’s post-synod document on family issues.
The Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See has always assumed a prominent public presence at CSW. This year it partnered with conservative family rights organizations such as the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children and the Campaign Life Coalition in a series of side events at UNHQ. At these events, pro-family rhetoric sidestepped traditional appeals to right to life in favour of a different approach. Speakers echoed Pope Francis’s recent condemnation of “ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family,” and framed reproductive rights advocacy in the Global South as the neocolonialist imposition of a uniquely Western value system, one perpetuating a “culture of death.”
“There is not one African culture, but we have one common thread that runs through many countries: our understanding that human life is precious,” a speaker from an African pro-life nonprofit said during a Holy See-led panel event on maternal health in Africa. “Through different platforms a lot of the West suggests strongly that abortion has to be legalized to reduce maternal mortality. This is diametrically opposed to a lot of our shared values, how we see life as being sacred from the moment of conception. So one cannot help but ask: is this another form of colonization?”..."