by Susan Yoshihara

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva inched closer to asserting abortion as a human right earlier this month when it passed a resolution endorsing a controversial new set of guidelines on maternal mortality. The guidelines were crafted with input from abortion advocates and reflect a view rejected by nations at the UN General Assembly.

The resolution, sponsored by New Zealand, Burkina Faso, and Colombia, endorsed a “technical guidance” paper by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that includes abortion under the term “sexual and reproductive health rights.”

While the resolution was adopted without a vote, 20 of the 47 council members submitted written opposition to accompany the text when the UN General Assembly considers it for adoption later this month.

“The whole text [of the resolution] is focused on the dissemination and application of a document that has never been negotiated by states or evaluated to determine its utility,” and that “promotes new rights not defined in international human rights instruments and declarations, mainly the reference to ‘sexual and reproductive health rights’,” objected opponents.

Nations defined “sexual and reproductive health” and “reproductive rights” in the non-binding document from the 1994 UN Conference on Population and Development at Cairo. Council members reminded their colleagues earlier this month, however, that there is no international consensus on “sexual rights.

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