Not so, says Luisa Cabal, Director of the
International Legal Program at the Center for
Reproductive Rights, one of the groups that brought
the case before the Committee.
We are thrilled that the UNHRC has ruled
in favor of protecting womens most essen-
tial human rights. Every woman who lives
in any of the 154 countries that are party to
this treatyincluding the U.S.now has a
legal tool to use in defense of her rights.
This ruling establishes that it is not enough
to just grant a right on paper. Where abor-
tion is legal it is governments duty to
ensure that women have access to it.38
Progressive advocacy groups such as Sexual
Information and Education Council of the United
States, Human Rights Watch, Catholics for a Free
Choice, and International Planned Parenthood
Federation conscientiously monitor conservative
trends.39 Several U.S.-based womens groups partici-
pate in international networks like the International
Womens Health Coalition, founded in 1984, which
calls for a broad platform of reproductive justice for
all women.40 These networks have become skilled in
anticipating and confronting conservative tactics.
An appeal to basic human rights for women
exposes some fundamental differences between the
international human rights community and the U.S.
Christian Right. Increasingly, womens health and
human rights groups are recognizing their common-
alities and now frame womens access to health serv-
ices as a human right. In contrast, conservative
NGOs, representing U.S.-based Christian Right
groups, seek to reinforce traditional gender roles,
restrict womens access to abortion services, and
deny whole populations accurate sexuality educa-
tion. These restrictions could be seen as problemat-
ic in a human rights framework.
The current UN agenda, articulated in its
Millennium Development Goals, focuses on the
pressing social needs of our time, such as the eradi-
cation of childhood poverty and the control of deadly
infectious disease. Anti-choice NGOs have a much
more narrow and controversial set of issues that
may be incompatible with the UN goals. Their posi-
tions reflect a desire for control over women and
childrens lives and the belief that their set of values
is applicable everywhere in the world. These issues
move their leaders to call for the defunding of such
well-respected programs as UNICEF or to insist that
the United States not ratify CEDAW, the Convention
on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination
Despite criticism from the United States, the
United Nations remains an institution for global
cooperation that reflects the views of its member
states. The United Nations continues to maintain
programs improving women and childrens health
and welfare across the globe.
n recent years conservative, anti-choice NGOs
from the United States have been targeting the
United Nations with increased vigor. Such groups
have entered the UN system with big goals, seeking
to alter the direction and outcomes of decisions
affecting reproductive justice and human rights.
They have tried to impose a narrow moral frame for
sexuality on the world at large and have made sub-
stantial progress towards the goal of making pro-
family and pro-life household words across the
globe. They are challenging the UNs commitment to
necessary comprehensive health education for girls
and access to vital reproductive services for women
the world over.
What have conservative NGOs accomplished?
Although these groups continue to claim victory in
a number of areas, their major scuffles have mostly
taken place over the wording of documents. There
has been some success in limiting U.S. funds for UN-
related programs, especially around issues of sexual-
ity, but the real clout for these changes likely came
from the Bush Administration itself.
UNd o i n g R e p r o d u c t i v e Fr e e d o m Christian Right NGOs Target the United Nations
POLITICAL RESEARCH ASSOCIATES 2006
38UN Human Rights Committee Makes Landmark Decision Establishing Womens Right to Access legal Abortion, Press release, November 17,
2005, Center for Reproductive Rights. http://www.crlp.org/pr_05_1117KarenPeru.
39For Faith and Family, 1-17 and New Sheriff in Town, 14-22. Butler observed the emergence of an interfaith coalition of conservative
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) involving Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons and including outreach to Jews and Muslims.
40For a definition of reproductive justice, see A New Vision for Advancing our Movement for Reproductive Health, Reproductive Rights and
Reproductive Justice, at http://www.apirh.org/download/ACRJ_A_New_Vision.pdf.