June 25, 2012 — The Vatican and a bloc of developing countries successfully campaigned to remove a reference to women's "reproductive rights" from the final statement for the United Nation's Rio+20 global summit on sustainable development, which closed on Friday, the Christian Science Monitor reports (LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, 6/22).
The initial draft of the document stated, "We are committed to ensure the equal access of women and girls to education, basic services, economic opportunities, and health care services, including addressing women's sexual and reproductive health and their reproductive rights" (Barbassa, AP/ABC News, 6/22).
Statements from similar summits over the past two decades have incorporated the reproductive rights language (Christian Science Monitor, 6/22). However, opposition from the Vatican and the G-77 -- a negotiating bloc of developing countries -- resulted in a final draft that merely pledged to "promote equal access" and omitted any reference to reproductive rights.
Odilo Pedro Scherer, a special envoy of Pope Benedict XVI, affirmed the church's position that "all human life, from conception until natural death, has the same worth and deserves the same dignity."
The removal of the reproductive rights language was criticized by women's health advocates and leaders from several countries, including Australia, Bolivia, Canada, New Zealand, Iceland, Israel, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Switzerland, Uruguay and the U.S. Peggy Clark, executive vice president for policy programs at the Aspen Institute, said, "The ability to choose the number, spacing and timing of children is not a luxury. It is a basic human right" (AP/ABC News, 6/22).
A coalition of human rights advocacy groups -- including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Center for International Environmental Law -- also issued a statement condemning the summit's "worryingly minimal commitments" as evidence that "global economic troubles are being matched by a recession in human rights" (Christian Science Monitor, 6/22).
Sec. Clinton Defends Women's Access to Family Planning
During a speech on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton applauded the final document's endorsement of women's reproductive health but criticized the omission of the specific reproductive rights language.
"While I am very pleased that this year's outcome document endorses sexual and reproductive health and universal access to family planning, to reach our goals in sustainable development we also have to ensure women's reproductive rights," Clinton said (AP/ABC News, 6/22).
She received applause when she added, "Women must be empowered to make decisions about whether and when to have children." The U.S. "will continue to work to ensure that those rights are respected in international agreements," Clinton said (Christian Science Monitor, 6/22).