Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Secretary Clinton on the ICPD and Reproductive Freedom

On Friday, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave a speech to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). A large portion of the reproductive rights community tuned in.

The ICPD took place in Cairo in 1994. At the end of the conference, 179 nations agreed upon a plan of action for the next 20 years. The goal of this effort was to promote women’s equality, eliminate violence against women, and increase access to reproductive health services.

The theme of Secretary Clinton’s speech was that fifteen years later, the world has seen many improvements in the reproductive freedom of women and girls, but there is a long way to go before meeting the goals of the ICPD. She cited hopeful statistics of progress, but they were contrasted and outnumbered by grim facts and stories about women and girls who struggle to control the sizes of their families, get educations, and stay alive and healthy.

However, the ICPD was not only dedicated to healthy outcomes for women and children. It was also dedicated to guaranteeing a fundamental right for women. The agreement states that reproductive rights “rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence.”

This notion has yet to be recognized domestically by the United States. Until very recently, government-funded abstinence-only programs were outright denying adolescents’ access to important information and skills for sexual health. The right to choose to terminate a pregnancy, although legalized in 1973, has been politicized and chipped away ever since. The most significant restriction on the ability to plan family size is the Hyde amendment, which restricts

the use of federal dollars for abortion services. Hyde created a precedent by separating abortion services from all other health-care services, and has critically impacted low-income women’s access to reproductive health care. Even today, as Congress is working to pass the most comprehensive overhaul of our health-care system, pro-choice Democrats are struggling to keep women’s health-care from losing ground. If access to reproductive health services was recognized as a fundamental human right, it would not be used as a source of negotiation in Congress’s debates.

During her speech, Secretary Clinton was right in saying, if we believe that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, then we cannot accept the ongoing marginalization of half the world’s population.” But recent events have left many questioning if Congress really does recognize women’s rights as human rights. It is wonderful to have a Secretary of State that is such a strong supporter of women’s equality and a President who has already made many triumphs for reproductive rights, but even the most powerful individuals cannot change the status quo by themselves. There will not be significant changes for women and children in the U.S. until the government recognizes a fundamental right to reproductive freedom, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.

NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland would like to recognize Secretary Clinton for her wonderful speech and her continued support of reproductive rights worldwide. Thank you! In conclusion, here is an excerpt from the speech in which she encouraging the activists and advocates not to give up:

“I just want to urge that we do not grow weary. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it can seem a little bit hard to take. It is also self-evident; it seems so obvious to the rest of us that this needs to be done, and we keep encountering obstacles of every shape and size. But please, stay with us and let’s try to create institutional and structural change that does not get wiped away when the political winds blow.”

You can view Clinton’s entire speech on RHRealityCheck’s YouTube channel or read the transcript at the Department of State website.

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