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Karolina Pawłowska: UN officers use the pandemic to promote abortion on a large scale

With the pandemic situation becoming more serious, the UN has committed itself to taking a number of measures aimed at helping countries overcome the crisis. Almost every key UN agency, including WHO, has addressed this global problem. What is important is that the UN has declared the allocation of substantial funding to battling COVID-19. Unfortunately, at a closer inspection of the documents issued by the UN, it appears that a considerable part of these efforts and resources is devoted to the promotion of controversial concepts, instead of fighting the pandemic. These encompass the so-called ‘reproductive and sexual rights’ to which, against international arrangements, attempts are made to include abortion. According to the UN, these rights are at risk during the coronavirus pandemic, and a fundamental part of the funds at the disposal of this international body should be allocated to protect them.


The following commentary is aimed at describing the main publications issued by the UN with regards to the pandemic, relating to the idea of reproductive and sexual rights and the right to abortion in particular. Firstly, it should be noted that these actions pose questions as to their legitimacy under the established international law. The term ‘reproductive and sexual rights’ has been controversial for years, as it does not have a unified definition and numerous countries express their opposition to its use. The term itself has a strong ideological connotation and the circles promoting it, including WHO, make considerable efforts to include abortion into its conceptual scope, contrary to the intentions of numerous countries. In this context, it is impossible not to be under the impression that the pandemic is a pretext to promote abortion on a large scale. The popularisation of medical abortion, which women around the world are encouraged to perform independently, is of great importance to the UN. At the same time, it should be noted that the activities related to perinatal care, procreation rights and mother and child care, which are also included in the category of reproductive and sexual rights by the UN agencies, are absolutely just and raise no doubts.


  1. The standpoint of WHO and HRP. Medical abortion.


During the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is depicted as a specialist and impartial body that communicates proven medical knowledge. However, there are numerous concerns, even regarding countering the crisis, as demonstrated by the suspension of contributions announced on 15 April by the US President Donald Trump. What is even more questionable is that WHO has – for years – supported initiatives aimed at the promotion of ‘reproductive and sexual rights’, including the right to abortion. In line with the documents issued by this agency and aimed at persons involved in healthcare policies, the legalisation of abortion is ‘key’ to women’s health. Fighting against ‘dangerous abortions’ is one of this body’s main priorities and its solution is... to legalise abortion on a large scale[1]. Meanwhile, the statements about the positive effect of abortion on a woman’s health are unjustified. As outlined in the comprehensive analysis, the legalisation of abortion does not contribute to the reduction of mortality in women, and some countries see the opposite correlation[2].


Both the international law and the arrangements made at the most important conferences held by the UN explicitly state that abortion can never be seen as a family planning method and countries and non-governmental organisations are obliged to reduce the number of abortions[3]. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and its preamble directly state that a child requires protection before, during and after birth[4].


Meanwhile, WHO and its specialised unit, HRP (Human Reproduction Programme) not only emphasize that the lack of access to the reproductive and sexual rights (including the right to abortion) is one of the key problems linked to the coronavirus pandemic but also encourage women to have a medical abortions at home on a large scale. As can be read in the document: ‘Clinical management of severe acute respiratory infection when COVID-19 is suspected’, access to abortion should be available to every woman, whether they are infected with COVID-19 or not. Dr Antonella Lavelanet, who believes that abortion is a ‘key service’ also mentioned the supposed importance of abortion for women’s health. Moreover, she added that when countries limit access to abortion, women should perform it on their own at home, with the use of medical substances.


The recommendations concerning the so-called medical abortion can be found on one of the subpages of the Human Reproduction Programme, operating under WHO. In accordance with its content, self-care during the coronavirus pandemic is particularly important for individuals, and its application is to be justified primarily in the field of reproductive and sexual health. The scope of these ‘services’ in the field of self-care also includes ‘safe abortion’. Is should also be noted that the idea of the promotion of this type of prenatal murder was not developed because of the pandemic. The document propagating this solution was issued by WHO in the summer of 2019[5] and is the basis of the actions currently promoted by WHO and HRP. At the same time, WHO has added abortive substances – Misoprostol and Mifepristone onto the list of essential medicines[6]. It would be hard to justify the actions postulated by WHO using women’s health – medical abortion does not only pose a fatal threat to the unborn child but is also dangerous to women having it. It also causes numerous adverse effects, and its consequences often require hospitalisation. It is hard to understand WHO strategy as something other than trying to change the regulations protecting the right to life that are applicable in the majority of countries across the world. It is much more difficult to prosecute people who enable women to have medical abortion, and the procedure itself is much more challenging to detect, and this fact is widely used by pro-abortion organisations.


  1. The standpoint of the United Nations Population Fund


The problem of reproductive and sexual rights is also raised in the documents on fighting the coronavirus pandemic issued by the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund). Reproductive and sexual rights are one of the main areas of activity of this agency. UNFPA was the organiser of the controversial summit held in Nairobi in November 2019. It is worth reminding that its goal was to disturb the consensus that was in force for many years and according to which there is no internationally acknowledged ‘right to abortion’. Not only the content of the document being forced at that time, which was not negotiable, but also the way the event was organised, raised huge doubts. The reason for this is that there were attempts to completely exclude organisations defending the right to life from participation and to marginalise the role of the countries that disagreed with the pro-abortion postulates[7]. UNFPA was also one of the main agencies trying to enforce the recognition of prenatal killing as a human right at the Cairo and Beijing conferences. All in all, thanks to the efforts of numerous countries and the Holy See, these aims – however, only partially – were futile.


In their documents on the coronavirus[8], the UNFPA indicates that access to abortion should be granted to all women, regardless of whether they were infected with COVID-19 or not. It points out that this access should be granted to the full extent of applicable law within a given country, which is also contrary to the arrangements made by countries on the international arena. This approach to abortion is intended to create the impression that abortion is a right, despite the fact that the vast majority of countries that allow it under certain circumstances treat their laws as a justification. It means that under very special circumstances having an abortion is not punishable, not that there exists a presumed subjective right to abortion. Moreover, countries and non-governmental organisations have dedicated themselves to reduce the number of abortions[9]. In the light of this, there are even more reservations about the UNFPA’s publication on 9 April, despite the ongoing crisis, of a document evaluating the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, in which the legalisation of abortion is an ‘achievement’[10]. Another source of confusion is the UNFPA's (as well as the WHO’s) frequent use of the term ‘reproductive and sexual rights’, which is not justified in documents on international law. During the previously mentioned conferences in Cairo (1994) and Beijing (1995), the phrase ‘sexual and reproductive health and rights’ was used purposely. That is because most countries did not agree to include the dubious and even more ideological concept of sexual rights in official international discourse.


  1. COVID-19 and the developing countries

The ‘Global Humanitarian Response Plan COVID-19’, issued at the end of March, is another document that raises doubts in the context of battling the coronavirus pandemic. It is a set of aid proposals for the developing countries. This document was created with the cooperation of all major UN agencies (WFP, WHO, UNFPA, UNDP, UNCHR, UNICEF), as well as selected non-governmental organisations. The UN Secretary-General advocates the allocation of two billion dollars to fight the pandemic. Undoubtedly, the developing countries that suffer from healthcare issues will be particularly affected by the epidemic and its consequences. For this reason, the help prepared by the international community will be necessary to avoid a humanitarian disaster in many regions. The severity of the problems trampling the developing countries is visible in numerous media reports which state that, for example, Senegal has only 30 respirators at its disposal[11].


It is even more astonishing that one of the priorities of the UN in the fight against COVID-19 is the necessity for reproductive and sexual health promotion[12]. The reference document for this postulate is ‘The Inter-Agency Field Manual on Reproductive Health in Humanitarian Settings’, issued in 2018[13]. Similarly to the other documents issued by the UN, it is a completely unauthorised interpretation of the applicable law, and its contents have never been subject to Member State agreement. The document’s authors propose the creation of the Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) which includes ‘complex abortion care’ to the full extent of applicable law. It is yet another example of trying to make an impression that there exists a subjective right to abortion, which should be currently available to women affected by the humanitarian crisis. What is most surprising in the documents described is the fact that the need to provide women with the possibility of prenatal murder is placed on an equal footing with perinatal care.


  1. Summary


Despite the global crisis that was brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the UN and their agencies have not changed their priorities. On the contrary, right next to the indisputable recommendations and declarations, they try to smuggle numerous controversial concepts that have never been agreed on by the international community. Reproductive and sexual rights are among these concepts, particularly abortion. The pandemic has not reduced the speed in which WHO or UNFPA implement their goals of popularising abortion. As a matter of fact, the pandemic acts as a pretext to intensify their actions. As shown in this article, the main method of popularising abortion is the promotion of medical abortion, performed by a woman at home by herself, sometimes even without medical supervision.


The recommendations of WHO and other agencies have already shown results, especially in the countries, in which abortion is in principle prohibited and punishable by law. One such example is Poland, where pro-abortion groups have become more active on this matter during the pandemic, by issuing numerous ‘handbooks’ or organising ‘webinars’ devoted to the possibility of having an abortion at home. It should be remembered that Poland is a country that protects the lives of children from the moment of conception to natural death. The existing exceptions, under which it is possible to perform an abortion in three statutory cases, constitute a structure similar to justification and exclude its punishability. Unfortunately, the campaign led by WHO and UNFPA is a fulcrum for the pro-abortion organisations and causes the legal system in Poland to erode. Women are openly encouraged by activists to have an abortion, medical abortion in particular, while being convinced that it is a safe procedure that bears no negative consequences. In one of the handbooks issued recently, FEDERA describes a method of medical abortion that can be done up to 24 weeks of pregnancy[14]. In the meantime, the descriptions of the experiences of women who had a medical abortion can be found on the websites of the organisations giving access to the drugs... The majority of them state that there were serious adverse effects, both physical and psychological.


The actions of the UN agencies that give the matters of women's health, maternal care and abortion the same level of importance, about which there is so much controversy during the coronavirus pandemic, call into question the credibility of these organisations.


Author: Karolina Pawłowska, Director of the Ordo Iuris Center of International Law


[1] World Health Organisation, Department of Reproductive Health and Research, Health worker roles in providing safe abortion care and post-abortion contraception, 2015,

[2] F. Furman, Aborcja a śmiertelność okołoporodowa matek (Abortion and perinatal mortality), (access date: 15 April 2020).

[3] Art. 8.25, International Conference on Population and Development Cairo (hereinafter referred to as: ICPD), 5–13 September 1994.

[4] The Art. 6 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 20 November 1989.

[5] WHO consolidated guideline on self-care interventions for health: sexual and reproductive health and rights, 2019.

[6] World Health Organisation Model List of Essential Medicines, 21st List, 2019. Geneva: World

Health Organisation; 2019.

[8] Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Preparedness and Response – UNFPA Technical Briefs V March 23_2020: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Maternal and Newborn Health & COVID-19; Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Preparedness and Response - UNFPA Technical Briefs V March 23_2020: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: Modern Contraceptives and Other Medical Supply Needs, Including for COVID-19 Prevention, Protection and Response.

[9] Art. 8 ICPD, op. cit.

[12] Global Humanitarian Response Plan Covid-19. United Nations Coordinated Appeal – April – December 2020, p. 27.

[13] Inter-Agency Field Manual On Reproductive Health In Humanitarian Settings, 2018.

[14] Federacja na rzecz Kobiet i Planowania Rodziny (Federation for Women and Family Planning), Przerywanie ciąży – metoda farmakologiczna (Termination of pregnancy – pharmacological method), p. 13.