Monday, March 19, 2012

Norway: Religion and morality “hazards” to Women’s rights

From Turtle Bay and Beyond:

Norway: Religion and morality “hazards” to Women’s rights

by Timothy Herrmann
At the conclusion of the 56th session of Commission on the Status of Women, Norway made an extremely strong statement condemning any religion, morality or tradition that stands in the way of the human rights of women. Of course, for the Norwegian delegation this means any group that does not believe that abortion or, as the United Nations would call it, "sexual and reproductive rights", are rights at all. What is most striking, at least to me, is not their verbal attack on what cultures "hold most dear" but their irresponsible use of the term "moral hazard".
As many of us are now frightfully aware thanks to the financial crisis, "moral hazard" describes a situation in which a person or party is more willing to take an unnecessary risk given that they are not the person or party likely to bear the costs of taking that risk. In their statement, which I have published below in full, the Norwegians would like you to believe that those responsible for the utter failure of CSW this year were those who refused to allow for language known to support an international right to abortion into the final outcome document, or "agreed conclusions". They would also like you to believe that those who do not support an international right to abortion do so because they have nothing to loose, or certainly not as much to loose as those women who will be kept from a "right" to abort their children. Unfortunately, in this case, the only ones worried about women and their health were the ones who understand that women's health is about much more than abortion.
This past week, it was the United States, Norway, and the European Union who were unwilling to compromise on ideology and to support language that would benefit the health of mothers and rural women. For people of faith, the family is sacred and the mother's role invaluable. Thus it goes without saying the the health of the women, and the health care she deserves to receive when she is pregnant are a priority. Unfortunately, for the EU, US, and Nordic countries the right to abortion is of even greater value. In fairness to their perspective, it must be pointed out that they believe abortion to be a health "service" and an inalienable right of women. But, what is not fair, and what is the true moral hazard, it that they are willing to compromise on women's health for the sake of the right to abortion.
Their claim is simple, abortion, particularly when it's illegal, is unsafe and kills women. This is true, it can and does kill women, but abortion is never entirely safe and, in numbers, it is not even a blip on the radar in terms of the main causes of maternal mortality, especially in the developing world where abortion is often illegal. And yet, a country like Norway is willing to allow something like a right to abortion keep the other 150 countries that belong to the UN from coming to an agreed conclusion on Women's health because a majority of those 150 countries refuse to accept an international right to abortion as a matter of women's health.
This is the real moral hazard, when your "morality" becomes an ideology that by its very definition blinds you to the truth of the very thing you purportedly support. This is what happened at this year's CSW. Norway, blinded by its own ideology, along with the United States and Europe, failed the woman and her health.
The following is Norway's final statement. I have also included that of the Holy See, which expresses my argument far more eloquently.
"Madame Chair, fellow delegates,
The term - "Moral Hazard" – is often used when someone takes a risky decision - because they know that someone else will pay if the decision is wrong.
I am sad to say, this is precisely what we have witnessed at this year’s meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women:
In statements and in speeches - and in negotiations -
we have seen how moral values have been evoked,
to deprive women of their Human Rights, their opportunities - and ultimately, for some - their life!
This is the real Moral Hazard of our time!
Fellow delegates,
Norway fully respects and protects religious freedom and cultural diversity.
But we cannot accept that religious, cultural and certain so-called moral arguments are being used to block decisions and avoid obligations we all know would give millions of women freedom and save hundreds of thousands of lives every year.
All countries and cultures have their traditions and hold them dear.
But in 2012, with the knowledge we now have with regard to women’s rights, opportunities and health, we also know that certain perspectives and practices are harmful –and dangerous – to women.
This means we have to compromise. Many will have to let go of some traditional convictions, also when they are based on religious belief or culture.
After all, every country, every culture and every society undergo permanent change.
That’s what’s called – development.
Norway will therefore continue to insist that the United Nations, including the Commission on the Status of Women, should take rational decisions for a better world for all – including all women.
Thank you Madame Chair."
The Holy See
Madame Chairperson,
With regard to the present resolution, my delegation stresses that the elimination of preventable maternal mortality and morbidity is directly linked to the provision of adequate healthcare. What are needed especially are skilled birth attendants, prenatal and postnatal care for mother and child, and emergency obstetric care.
My delegation notes with grave concern various agendas which were being advanced during the negotiations regarding so-called “reproductive rights,” a term on which no international consensus exists. My delegation laments the attempt by the main sponsor of the resolution to de-link the term from the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) on which many States have reservations. By their legislation, numerous States have and remain committed to opposing abortion and thus to upholding the rights of the unborn. It is an incontrovertible fact that abortion kills the unborn child and causes harm to the mother. For this reason there is no such thing as a “safe” abortion.
Language contained with the ICPD Programme of Action affirms respect for religious and ethical values (cf., Chapter II, Principles). Regrettably, the main sponsor failed to allow a paragraph to affirm these principles which respect conscience and the freedom of religion. Likewise, the attempt to change language contained within the Programme of Action regarding family planning—that is, family planning which is acceptable [cf., 7.14 (c) and 7.5 (a)]—amounts to a wholesale attempt at rewriting history to advance an agenda disrespectful of marriage and the family.
It is the sacred and solemn responsibility of parents to care for their children and no one—including the state—has a right to advance an agenda which does not respect the natural moral law. The attempt on the part of the main sponsor of the text to not recognize the prior and primary responsibilities, rights, and duties of parents regarding their children, is disrespectful of the nature of marriage and the family and undermines international law (cf., Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26,3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 18,4; Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 5 and 18,1). The advancement of an agenda which promotes “sex education” and artificial contraception to children, and completely disregards their parent’s involvement, is antithetical to the role of the state which has the responsibility to promote the common good of the family and society.
It is tragic that the present resolution is clouded by various attempts to advance the aforementioned agendas which are contrary to respect for human life. An authentic rights-based approach to eliminating preventable maternal mortality and morbidity respects fully all human persons and thus all women, and is an approach which necessarily includes, inter alia, respect for the life of all persons, from conception to natural death, freedom of conscience, full respect for religious liberty, and the promotion of the common good. While the present resolution addresses some of the concerns facing pregnant mothers, my delegation hopes that in the future these concerns will be fully addressed, so that mothers and fathers and their children will truly be affirmed in keeping with their dignity.
In closing, Madame Chairperson, my delegation reaffirms all of the Holy See’s reservations on past occasions with regard to the meaning of the term “sexual and reproductive health” and “reproductive rights” which should not include abortion or abortion services. Moreover, the Holy See in no way endorses contraception or the use of condoms, either as a family planning measure or as part of HIV/AIDS prevention programmes or classes/programmes of education in sexuality. Regarding the term “gender” and its many uses in the text, my delegation once again reaffirms the use of "gender" as referring to “women and men,” or male and female, according to its ordinarily agreed usage before, during and after negotiation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
The Holy See – as well as many women in the world – is convinced that the true advancement of women is strongly linked to the recognition and the effective implementation of their rights, dignity and responsibilities.
I would request that this statement be duly reflected in the records of this meeting.
Thank you, Madame Chairperson"
Timothy Herrmann | March 19, 2012 at 8:23 am | Categories: TurtleBayUN | URL:

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