Rio de Janeiro — Hillary Rodham Clinton took a stand for women's reproductive rights during the Rio+20 United Nations conference on Friday, saying "women must be empowered to make decisions on whether and when to have children" if the world is to attain agreed-upon sustainable development goals.
The U.S. Secretary of State spoke during the conference's last day, applauding the final document's endorsement of women's sexual and reproductive health but making it clear that she objected to the omission of specific language on reproductive rights.
"While I am very pleased that this year's outcome document endorses sexual and reproductive health and universal access to family planning, to reach our goals in sustainable development we also have to ensure women's reproductive rights," Clinton said. "The United States will continue to work to ensure that those rights are respected in international agreements."
As in past global gatherings, there was much discussion at Rio+20 about the language related to women's reproductive health and rights.
An initial draft of this conference's outcome document stated, "We are committed to ensure the equal access of women and girls to education, basic services, economic opportunities, and health care services, including addressing women's sexual and reproductive health and their reproductive rights."
In the final draft, the stronger wording "We are committed to ensure the equal access" was switched to the weaker "We are committed to promote equal access." The reference to reproductive rights was deleted altogether, after opposition from the G-77, a negotiating bloc of developing countries at the United Nations, and the Holy See.
Odilo Pedro Scherer, special envoy of Pope Benedict XVI, reiterated the Vatican's position that "all human life, from conception until natural death, has the same worth and deserves the same dignity."
Leaders from other countries, including Norway, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay, Mexico, Iceland, Switzerland and Israel fought to keep the reference to reproductive rights, as did nongovernmental organizations promoting human rights and women's rights.
Removing references to reproductive health from the outcome document was "an unacceptable step backward that erases decades of global commitments," said Peggy Clark, the executive vice president for policy Programs at the Aspen Institute. "The ability to choose the number, spacing and timing of children is not a luxury. It is a basic human right, one that has already been affirmed by the world community at the Cairo and Beijing conferences."
"The key word is access, above all for women," Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said Thursday during a forum with other women leaders. "In Brazil, we are investing to overcome difficulties and poor access to public health services that would allow the full exercise of sexual and reproductive rights, including family planning."