Australia Decided Not To Support A United Nations Statement Calling For Safe Access To Abortion

We really nailed International Women's Day this year.

united nations human rights committee abortion

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Well, Australia has refused to sign an International Women’s Day statement at the United Nations, which called for safe access to abortion and improved sexual health education.

Given this country’s track record on abortion rights, that’s not entirely surprising, but still. 57 states signed on to the statement, proposed by Finland and Mexico, which stressed that “ensuring accountability for human rights violations perpetrated against women and girls is central to fulfilling human rights obligations.”

“Accountability is based on participation, transparency, empowerment, and non-discrimination,” the statement continued. Turns out Australia couldn’t even deliver participation, let alone the rest of the list.

Naturally, we’re being absolutely slammed for failing to sign on. Just last month, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne gave a speech at the UN Human Rights Council saying that Australia’s number one guiding principle during its three-year term on the Council is “gender equality”.

As Edwina MacDonald, a Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre, put it, “the Morrison Government holds a really important role on the Human Rights Council, it should be using its voice at the UN to stand up for the rights of women all around the world. Instead, we get hollow words here in Geneva and a failure to lift its game back home. It’s so disappointing.”

“Being able to make choices about our own bodies and access reproductive health are absolutely essential to achieving gender equality. No government can truly support gender equality and human rights without supporting access to safe abortions and reproductive rights.”

The government, for its part, has told media that Australia “consistently advances gender equality and the rights of women and girls”, including by “strongly defending sexual and reproductive health and rights language in the Human Rights Commission, the UN General Assembly, through the UN Commission for the Status of Women, and the UN Commission for Population and Development”.

Buzzfeed notes that Australia may have opted not to join the statement due to its broad language, which calls for access to abortion without specifying that this should apply where abortion is legal. Australia has previously signed on to a different UN document, the ICPD Program of Action, which is more specific in saying that “in circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be safe”.

Abortion remains in the crimes act in several Australian states, and access to abortion differs around the country. Last week, the Labor Party made access to abortion a key election issue, committing to push for decriminalisation and improved access to abortion around the country if it wins government.

Australia’s inaction at the UN comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s widely criticised International Women’s Day speech, where he said that “we don’t want to see women rise only on the basis of others doing worse”. All in all, I think we can agree that the Morrison government has absolutely killed it this International Women’s Day.