No middle ground as activists, churches differ on abortion during the summit

EU Members of Parliament Norbert Neuser (left) and Evelyn Regner during a press conference in Nairobi regarding the ongoing ICPD 25 conference in Nairobi on November 14, 2019. [David Njaaga, Standard]

Zero preventable maternal deaths, zero violence against women, and zero unmet needs in family planning are the three key commitments adopted at the closing of a population summit in Nairobi.

Even at its closure, officiated by Deputy President William Ruto, yesterday, the abortion agenda which has been the controversy around the conference was still the contentious issues among participants.

While advocacy groups in favour of planned parenthood stated their stand firmly at the closing ceremony, religious leaders present appeared not willing to take the bull by its horns.

The leaders, while emphasising how sexual reproductive rights are important, did not mention anything on the abortion debate.

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Antje Jackelen Archbishop of the Church of Sweden hit out at those opposing sexual reproductive health rights, saying it is a win-win concept.

“Societies that are gender-just will flourish more than those that are not,” she said.

She, however, noted that if this issue has to be addressed, then there is need to engage the faith communities.

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“Some churches continue to be part of the problem but churches are, and have always been part of the solution. Bodies matter to God, because in the Christian faith God took the form of human in Jesus Christ,” she said.

The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD 25) was highly opposed by the church, who argued that some of the issues being discussed go against the principals of faith.

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Hassan Kinyua Omari from the Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslim gave a commitment to end violence against women.

“Together we need end sexual and gender-based violence. I commit to inform the society to be merciful and eradicate discrimination against women and girls,” he said.

But Naisola Likimani, from She Decides movement while commenting on the goal to reduce maternal mortality, said it is paramount that the voice of young people be heard.

“There is need to address unsafe abortion. We will not reach zero maternal deaths and injuries if we do not address unsafe abortion,” she said.

Karen Elleman, Danish MP and leader of the Parliament on SRHR, said women and girls rights are human rights and that sexual reproductive rights are essential to achieving Sustainable Development Goals.

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“I find it very hard to understand how one can be against the right to decide on your own body, your own right, your own future,” she said. 

She said it is estimated that 25 million unsafe abortions are procured every year.

“This number is too high and will go higher if we accept the push-back (against abortion). As Denmark, we will ensure that the push-back is pushed back,” she said.

The conference ended with a pledge of $8 billion towards three zero commitments from the private sector. The total budget for the three zero commitments is $264 billion. The summit attracted 9,500 participants from 179 countries.

This years’ ICPD conference was a follow-up to the Cairo conference held in Cairo in 1994.

Cairo conference

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Dr Ruto said since the Cairo conference, a lot of changes had been made and the world has become more diverse and populous which calls for changes.

“We have revisited our commitment as captured in the ICPD plan. It has been quite encouraging that our determination remains strong,” he said.

Ruto said human rights and dignity of individuals remains focal point for agenda for progress, adding that upholding women rights and well-being is at the centre of unlocking the power of transformation.

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