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UNICEF and abortion

UNICEF denies all involvement with abortion, and does so vociferously. In an official policy statement, UNICEF asserts that it “…has never provided support for abortion and it continues to be the long-standing UNICEF policy not to support abortion as a method of family planning.”40 This point is repeated regularly. For instance, Executive Director of UNICEF Ireland, Maura Quinn has said, “Here are the facts: UNICEF does not finance abortion or abortion-related activities, nor has it ever done so….UNICEF as an organization does not advocate abortion…the Executive Board as a governing body has never passed any policy that even remotely supports abortion.” Or, as Carol Bellamy told a newspaper in India in 2001, “Abortion isn’t anything that UNICEF has been involved in. We don’t recommend it. We don’t engage in it. We don’t offer it. We don’t tell people they should have it.”

However, UNICEF’s record on abortion is much more ambiguous, and much more problematic. For instance, UNICEF has endorsed documents, and has participatedin the drafting of documents, that call for the legalization of abortion. One such document is the “The United Nations International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights.” The document was drafted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNAIDS. According to the document’s annex, a representative of each UN agency comprising UNAIDS – WHO, UNDPA, UNFPA, UNESCO, World Bank, and UNICEF – was present at the drafting of the document. Thus, it can be concluded that UNICEF approves of this document; its name is even on the title page.

The Guidelines document openly asserts that women should have a right to abortion: “Laws should also be enacted to ensure women’s reproductive and sexual rights, including the right of independent access to reproductive and STD health information and services and means of contraception, including safe and legal abortion…” It is even suggested that girls should have the right to abortion: “States should ensure that all women and girls of child-bearing age have…access to the available resources to…proceed with childbirth, if they so choose.”

Some of UNICEF’s most explicit advocacy for abortion rights has come through its involvement in worldwide maternal health campaigns. In 1987, UNICEF joined the Safe Motherhood Initiative (SMI), which was launched at a conference in Nairobi, Kenya. According to its website, the “Safe Motherhood Initiative is a worldwide effort that aims to reduce the number of deaths and illnesses associated with pregnancy and childbirth.” However, it became clear from its earliest moments that participants would not shy away from controversy, including controversy surrounding abortion. And perhaps this should come as no surprise, since participants include the International Planned Parenthood Federation, as well as a number of other abortion-providers and abortion-promoters, such as the Population Council (which holds a patent on the abortion drug RU-486). UNFPA is also prominent in the Safe Motherhood Initiative.

One of the ten “Priorities for Safe Motherhood” is labeled “Prevent Unwanted Pregnancy and Address Unsafe Abortion.” According to the Safe Motherhood Initiative, this “priority” is based upon the fact that “Unsafe abortion is the most neglected – and most easily preventable – cause of maternal death.” To address women’s deaths through unsafe abortions, “safe motherhood programmes [should] include client-centered family planning services to prevent unwanted pregnancy, contraceptive counseling for women who have had an induced abortion, the use of appropriate technologies for women who experience abortion complications, and, where not against the law, safe services for pregnancy termination.” An SMI “fact sheet” on unsafe abortion goes one step further than this, calling for the legalization of abortion: “What can be done? Reform laws and policies to support women’s reproductive health and improve access to family planning, health and abortion-related services.” Not only did UNICEF approve of this priority, and of this fact sheet, it seems to have participated in writing it. The fact sheet, itself, states that it was “Prepared by Family Care International (FCI) and the Safe Motherhood Inter-Agency Group (IAG). The IAG includes: the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), World Bank, World Health Organization (WHO), International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), and the Population Council.” Thus, according to UNICEF, nations should legalize abortion; they should “reform laws…to…improve access to…abortion-related services.”

UNICEF’s pro-abortion advocacy in the name of maternal health has continued unabated since then. In 1999, UNICEF helped to draft another document, entitled “Reduction of Maternal Mortality,” a Joint WHO/UNFPA/UNICEF/World Bank Statement. In many ways, this document represents UNICEF’s full integration into this maternal health-abortion issue. The text of the statement makes it plain that its sponsors are in total agreement regarding its contents: “This joint statement represents a consensus between WHO, UNFPA, UNICEF, and the World Bank and is an example of the common purpose and complementarity of programmes supported by the four agencies.” The Joint Statement reaches the same conclusion that the Inter-Agency Group of the Safe Motherhood Initiative reached: if unsafe abortions result in maternal deaths, then any effort to combat maternal mortality must address unsafe abortions, at least in countries where abortion is legal: “Complications of unsafe abortion are responsible for a substantial proportion (13%) of maternal deaths. In some parts of the world, one-third or more of all maternal deaths are associated with unsafe abortions. These deaths can be prevented if women have access to family planning information and services, care for abortion-related complications, and, where abortion is not prohibited by law, safe abortion care.”

But the Joint Statement goes even further than this. According to the Joint Statement, access to legal abortion should be expanded: “Availability of services for management of abortion complications and post-abortion care should be ensured by appropriate legislation. Where abortion is not prohibited by law, facilities for the safe termination of pregnancy should be made available.” Who would make these facilitates available, and who would fund the creation of these facilitates, is not discussed. But another threshold for UNICEF has now been crossed: in the name of maternal health, abortion facilitates should somehow “be made available.”

Finally, there is a document produced in 2000 by an NGO called Family Care International. According to Family Care International, the document was written “in consultation” with UNICEF. The document, which includes a quotation from UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, maps out a strategy for repealing restrictions on abortion. It states that an “Area for Action” is “Changing laws, policies and attitudes that continue to inhibit the full exercise of reproductive and sexual rights.” And what is included in this conception of reproductive and sexual health? “Safe abortion services.”

Thus, in the name of maternal health, UNICEF has made repeated calls for the expansion of abortion services and the recognition of a legal right to abortion. It should also be noted that this approach to maternal health represents a fundamental break from the successful programs of former Executive Director Jim Grant. For instance, it is a controversial approach, an approach that cannot garner widespread, universal acceptance. What is more, it does not focus on the immediate, on the “doable.” If the goal is to save as many women as possible, then UNICEF should focus all of its resources on providing trained birth attendants and emergency obstetric care, and not waste any effort on an indirect, rights-based approach. The Joint Statement, itself, notes that “Only 53% of pregnant women in developing countries deliver with the help of a skilled attendant….Providing skilled attendants able to prevent, detect, and manage the major obstetric complications, together with the equipment, drugs, and other supplies essential for their effective management, is the single most important factor in preventing maternal deaths.” Perhaps the first step in any maternal health crusade should be to ensure that the other 47 per cent of women have trained birth attendants, and to worry about rights and discrimination and social barriers only after this goal has been achieved. But perhaps even more importantly, by involvement with this maternal health crusade, UNICEF has taken on both the means and ends of groups whose ultimate goal is the right to abortion-on-demand in every country on earth. Through this safe motherhood crusade, UNICEF’s integration with UNFPA and IPPF, and other groups like them, grows ever more complete.

As we have seen, one of the reasons cited by the Vatican when it decided to defund UNICEF in November, 1996, was “The participation of UNICEF in the publication of a United Nations Manual advocating the distribution of abortifacient ‘post-coital contraceptives’ to refugee women in emergency situations.” The Vatican was referring to a document entitled “Reproductive Health in Refugee Situations: an Inter-Agency Field Manual.” Indeed, this is a deeply controversial document, on many issues. And, indeed, the Manual constitutes another example of the dangers of UNICEF involvement with other UN agencies such as the UN Population Fund.

The very acknowledgements would appear to pose a public-relations problem for UNICEF for, there, UNICEF is joined by Family Health International, Ipas, IPPF, Marie Stopes International, Population Council and UNFPA in endorsing the manual. Family Health International (FHI), initially called the International Fertility Research Program (IFRP), has been involved in devising and testing sterilization techniques and numerous contraceptives and abortifacients, including the Intrauterine Device (IUD), Norplant and the female condom. Ipas manufacturers the manual vacuum aspirator (MVA), a suction device that can be used for a number of purposes, including, according to Ipas, early abortions in refugee-like emergency situations. The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) is the world’s largest abortion-provider. Marie Stopes International (MSI) is another major abortion-provider, operating clinics in many developing countries. The Population Council was established to lower worldwide fertility. It advocates for abortion, and, as we have seen, holds the patent for the abortion drug RU-486. It is these groups with which UNICEF associated in the writing of this manual, all of them seminal organizations in the population control movement, and the movement for recognition of abortion as an international human right, as well as organizations that might profit by establishing new markets for their contraceptive and abortifacient products: refugee camps.

What, exactly, does the Refugee Manual say? First, the document suggests a right to abortion: “Implicit in this last condition are the rights of men and women to be informed and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice, as well as other methods of their choice for regulation of fertility which are not against the law…” In the parlance of United Nations radicals, “fertility regulation” includes abortion.

The Manual also establishes that relief organizations should distribute “emergency contraceptives” to refugees. The Manual states that: “Key actions to be taken during the emergency to reduce the risk of sexual violence and respond to survivors are…provide a medical response to survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception.” It also states that: “Copper-bearing IUDs can be used as a method of emergency contraception. This may be appropriate for some women who wish to retain the IUD for long-term contraception….When adopted within five days, an IUD is an effective method of emergency contraception.”

It is a scientific fact, a fact now acknowledged by both the UN Population Fund and the World Health Organization (WHO), that emergency contraceptives often operate by blocking already-conceived human embryos from implanting in the uterus. Emergency contraceptives kill human embryos, and are, thus, according to traditional obstetric definitions, abortifacient in nature.

From all of this, it can be concluded that UNICEF is an opportunistic advocate of abortion rights. UNICEF has used the issue of HIV/AIDS to promote abortion. UNICEF has used the issue of maternal mortality to promote abortion. UNICEF has used the issue of refugee crises to promote abortion. And it now appears that UNICEF has accepted the most explicitly pro-abortion element of the United Nations – the Committee on the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – as a fundamental guide for its own policies and programming. One UNICEF document claims that “the application of CRC and CEDAW principles [are] now the driving forces behind UNICEF’s work for children and women…” The document goes on to say that UNICEF depends upon the pronouncements of the Committee, even gives these pronouncements pride-of-place in its own programming. According to UNICEF,

In assessing the country situations of children and women, UNICEF offices are guided by the suggestions and general recommendations of the Committees for CRC and CEDAW. The concerns and specific problems identified by these Committees may point to the need for further study or actions by UNICEF on issues within its mandate. These suggestions and recommendations may also highlight issues and concerns which in the view of the Committees require attention and may warrant a UNICEF programmatic response.

What does the Committee tell nations? The Committee has informed a number of countries that they must legalize abortion or risk falling out of compliance with the Convention. For instance, in 1999, the Committee told Chile that it “…urges the Government to consider a review and amendment of the laws relating to abortion, in particular to provide safe abortion and to permit termination of the pregnancy for therapeutic reasons or because of health, including mental health, of the woman.” The Committee also stated that it “…is concerned that, with very limited exceptions, abortion remains illegal in Ireland. Women who wish to terminate their pregnancies need to travel abroad….The Committee urges the Government to facilitate a national dialogue on women’s reproductive rights, including on the restrictive abortion laws.” The Committee told Colombia that it “…noted with great concern that abortion, which is the second cause of maternal deaths in Colombia, is punishable as an illegal act.”

So it is now established that UNICEF talks, often and repeatedly, about abortion. It accepts the policy guidance of abortion advocates. These are important developments in their own right. But what does UNICEF do? What actions does UNICEF take in support of these positions? UNICEF has participated in a number of dubious family planning programs. For instance, on its webpage, the Population Council describes a program in Sierra Leone whereby UNICEF transfers money from UNFPA to national affiliates of Marie Stopes International (MSI) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF): “UNICEF is now executing the National Family Planning/Maternal Child Health (MCH) Project, funded by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). This program operates through government health centers and posts and also assists NGOs like Marie Stopes Sierra Leone (MSSL) and the Planned Parenthood Association of Sierra Leone (PPASL). Both MSSL and PPASL receive some assistance, including contraceptive supplies, from this project.” Thus, UNICEF is involved in ensuring that Marie Stopes and International Planned Parenthood are provided with contraceptives. What is additionally troubling about this project is that MSI and IPPF are both abortion providers, two of the world’s largest and most prominent abortion providers. “Both MSSL and PPASL receive some assistance, including contraceptive supplies, from this project.” This assistance includes, and therefore is not restricted to, contraceptive supplies. Is it possible that UNICEF helps to transfer money from UNFPA to MSI and IPPF in order to perform abortions? Unless there are specific guidelines in place – and there do not appear to be any – we have no way of knowing.

In the UN Population Fund’s 1996 Inventory of Population Projects in Developing Countries Around the World, UNICEF is named as a financial contributor to a “global” program on reproductive health run by the Population Council. According to the Inventory:

This project focuses on four priorities: improving the quality of care in family planning and reproductive health services; managing unwanted pregnancy and preventing the consequences of unsafe abortion; devising new approaches to postpartum care to meet the health and contraceptive needs of the mother and the health of her child; and designing programs that address sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. Funded by Ford, SID, MacArthur, Rockefeller, USAID, AusAID, UNICEF, UNFPA, the Government of the Netherlands, and the Population Council. Project duration: 1987-open. Project budget 1996: $1,109,000.

There are a number of areas of concern with this program. In UN parlance, “reproductive health services” has often included abortion. What is more, “managing unwanted pregnancies” is also routinely used by pro-abortion non governmental organizations as a euphemism for abortion – the proper manner in which to manage an unwanted pregnancy being to terminate it. Could UNICEF actually be funding abortions through this project?

UNICEF also funds a South African organization called loveLife that purportedly exists to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS. LoveLife appears to be held in high regard throughout the United Nations community, including by UNICEF. In a press release, loveLife itself reports that, in 2000, “loveLife – South Africa’s high-powered national HIV-prevention effort [was] selected by the United Nations and its affiliated international development agencies – UNICEF, UNAIDS and UNDP – as the only organization to be profiled at the official UN World AIDS events at the UN Headquarters in New York.” On its website, loveLife also claims that UNICEF is a prominent financial sponsor of its programs: “Major funding for loveLife is provided by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the South African Government and UNICEF.”

As of January, 2003, loveLife provided children with the telephone number for the Marie Stopes International abortion clinics: “Abortion is free at some government clinics and hospitals. Private clinics charge for it. You can get an abortion done at Marie Stopes Clinics, 0800 11 7785 if you are happy to pay for the service.” LoveLife tells children: “You’re pregnant, or you’ve just heard that your girlfriend is. You didn’t plan it, you don’t want it….Remember, it is your right to get counseling. It is your right to get an abortion. If people are unhelpful, don’t get discouraged. Keep trying. You don’t need permission from anybody to have an abortion.” Lovelife also mentions that a girl can have an abortion - a procedure it describes as “a gentle suction” - without telling her parents. Instead, a girl should “Talk to someone - a health worker, a counselor, or someone you can trust.”79 After his girlfriend’s abortion, loveLife recommends that a boyfriend should “Help her feel special – even a cup of tea can help! Celebrate together if you want. Wait before you suggest sex and take it easily and gently. Use contraception.”

Finally, loveLife informs girls what they can expect after their abortion: “You will feel a sense of relief. Some people like to do a ritual to end the process – light a candle, plant a flower, write a poem or go for a long walk. If you get depressed, talk to a counsellor or health worker.”

Finally, there is some indication that UNICEF has provided an early abortion device to international aid organizations through its catalogue of goods. According to Ipas, the manual vacuum aspirator it produces has been distributed by UNICEF: Ipas claims that “MVA instruments are also available through the UNICEF Warehouse Catalogue.” The MVA is a multi-purpose device, useful “for treatment of incomplete abortion, induced abortion through 12 weeks LMP, and endometrial biopsy.” Ipas emphasizes just how useful MVAs are for abortion: “Ipas is working to ensure that where medical abortion is offered, MVA is available as an alternative and/or backup method because of the safety and efficacy of the vacuum aspiration technology.” (It should be noted that this website was altered after the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute reported on this issue. The mention of UNICEF was removed. Also, no manual vacuum aspirator is currently listed in the UNICEF Warehouse Catalogue.)

What should be concluded about UNICEF and abortion? On multiple occasions, UNICEF has endorsed statements calling for the legalization of abortion and for an increase in access to abortion. UNICEF employs the pro-abortion CEDAW Committee as its policy guide. UNICEF has funded a number of programs that may involve abortion.