Explanation of Position on a Third Committee Resolution on Efforts to End Obstetric Fistula

Courtney Nemroff
Deputy U.S. Representative to ECOSOC
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
November 19, 2018


We thank Senegal, on behalf of the Africa Group, for its resolution on efforts to end obstetric fistula.

The United States disassociates from operative paragraphs including 3 and 14(m) because of our concern that the terms “sexual and reproductive health” and “sexual and reproductive health-care services” have accumulated connotations that suggest the promotion of abortion or a right to abortion that are unacceptable to our Administration.

The United States believes that women should have equal access to reproductive health care. We remain committed to the commitments laid out in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and in the ICPD Program of Action. As has been made clear over many years, there was international consensus that these documents do not create new international rights, including any “right” to abortion. The United States fully supports the principle of voluntary choice regarding maternal and child health and family planning. We do not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance. We also note that the United States is the largest bilateral donor of reproductive health and family planning assistance.

The United States understands that any reaffirmation of prior documents applies only to those States that affirmed them initially, and, in the case of international treaties or conventions, only to those States who are party. For the United States, this understanding includes references to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which we are not party.

As the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights provides, each State Party undertakes to take the steps set out in Article 2(1) “with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights.” We interpret references to the obligations of States as applicable only to the extent they have assumed such obligations, and with respect to States Parties to the Covenant, in light of its Article 2(1). We note that countries have a wide array of policies and actions that may be appropriate in promoting the progressive realization of economic, social, and cultural rights. Therefore, we believe that these resolutions should not try to define the content of those rights. Further, we understand abbreviated references to certain human rights to be shorthand for the accurate terms used in the applicable international treaty, and we maintain our longstanding positions on those rights.

The United States supports the goal of having women and girls receive high quality education. We note however that there is no “right to education of good quality,” as the resolution mentions, and also notes that in the United States, decisions regarding curricular and other education policies, materials, and programs are made as appropriate and consistent with our respective federal, state, or local authorities.

In addition, the resolution refers to an “internationally agreed goal of improving maternal health.” While improving maternal health is an admirable objective that reflects commitments by the international community, there are no international obligations in this regard.