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In “False Devils,” Nadja Wolfe of the World Youth Alliance asserts that “countries did not include abortion as a component of reproductive health” at the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development. The very agreement she cites contradicts her.

Paragraph 13.14(b) of the agreement lists abortion as a “basic reproductive health service” under the rubric of “major components” of “basic reproductive health.”

Paragraph 7.6 reads:

All countries should strive to make accessible through the primary health-care system, reproductive health to all individuals of appropriate ages as soon as possible and no later than the year 2015. Reproductive health care in the context of primary health care should, inter alia, include . . . abortion as specified in paragraph 8.25. (emphasis added)

The terms “sexual and reproductive health” and “reproductive rights” are defined virtually coextensively in the agreement, contrary to Wolfe’s principal contention.

Barring a redefinition, attempts to sanitize these terms are futile, as Austin Ruse and I have tried to explain before.

This framework is part of the new U.N. development goals, and is unlikely to ever go away if professedly pro-life organizations confuse politicians and U.N. delegates about what they mean.

Wolfe is nevertheless right about Paragraph 8.25 in the Cairo agreement, which says abortion is a subject to be dealt with exclusively in national legislation.

However consoling, the agreement has resulted in a reverse Mexico City Policy. It established an avenue to promote abortion through the United Nations, and created a permanent funding stream for a global abortion lobby made up of International Planned Parenthood affiliates, the U.N. Population Fund, and other organizations that are overtly abortion-centered.

Opposing the terms in international policy is no longer just a question of principle, morals, or preserving the moral high ground—important as this is. It is a question of strategic survival for the pro-life cause. Anyone who accepts sexual and reproductive health in U.N. policy is working against the pro-life cause.

Moreover, the Holy See’s position is not untenable, as Wolfe argues. Since Cairo, as George Weigel narrated, the Holy See has received support from far and wide, including at high-level U.N. conferences, and most recently at the forty-eighth session of the Commission on Population and Development.

If the Holy See’s position now appears untenable, it is only because politicians and delegates from countries that would otherwise support the Holy See have been told to go along with the Cairo compromise.

Countries that protect the unborn are working against their own self-interest by funding organizations that militate against their laws, and inadvertently contribute to the development of an international norm on abortion. While this has so far frustratingly eluded abortion advocates as my colleague Susan Yoshihara painstakingly explains, and contrary to what Wolfe asserts, they may yet achieve what they want if governments don’t stand up for life at U.N. headquarters.

Pro-life organizations need to convince governments of this, rather than help further entrench the Cairo compromise in U.N. policy.

Image adapted from Flickr.

Stefano Gennarini is the Director of Legal Studies at the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam) in New York. The views expressed here are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of C-Fam.

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