The US would not support abortion when a woman or girl has been raped and family planning programmes should offer alternatives to terminations, a senior policy adviser has told a conference in Nairobi.
In a statement that has emboldened anti-choice groups in the city, Valerie Huber, the US special representative for global women’s health, told a summit on population and development that her country sought to combat gender-based violence by investing in programmes that respected the rights of women and girls, but didn’t compromise “the inherent value of every human life – born and unborn”.
She added that her statement was not an endorsement of the three-day summit, held to mark the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), where world leaders have pledged to redouble efforts to end preventable maternal death, satisfy family planning demand and stop violence and harmful practices.
The conference, which began on Tuesday, has attracted opposition from anti-choice groups, who held their own events in the city.
More than 100,000 people have signed a petition to reject “the pro-abortion and sexualisation agenda at [the] ICPD+25 Nairobi summit”.
A “pro-life and pro-family march”, organised by the Kenya Christian Professional Forum and planned for Thursday, was postponed by police for security reasons.
“They [organisers] never allowed us, the pro-life and pro-family people, inside the ICPD25 summit. We were going to protest from the summit,” said Ann Kioko, campaigns director for CitizenGo in Africa.
“We don’t agree with the agenda of ICPD25. We have made it very clear that its agenda is not [what] we stand for. Even the president has made it very clear, saying we have to stand for the family. Even members of parliament and members of the church have spoken very clearly. The US has spoken against the event.”
In her statement, Huber, an advocate of abstinence-only sex education, said the US remained committed to preventing child marriage, female genital mutilation and people trafficking.
She added that while the US was committed to continued funding for family planning, programmes should offer women alternatives to abortion.
“The US is committed to promoting a healthy understanding of child spacing and non-coercive family planning to help couples either achieve or prevent pregnancy. The US is the largest bilateral funder for family planning. That hasn’t changed,” said Huber.
“Our global health programmes, including those for family planning, are consistent with the ICPD pronouncement that abortion is not a method of family planning and that programmes should seek to provide women alternatives to abortion.”
Her comments came as more than 200 organisations from over 50 countries published a call to action to demand urgent advances in sexual and reproductive rights around the world.
The list of demands included full access to information, means and support for any woman who wants an abortion, guaranteed universal health coverage, bodily autonomy, and a recognition that access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health and rights “is the bedrock of gender equality”.
The statement also called for the recognition of sexual rights as human rights, the protection of refugees, urgent action to address the climate crisis and more money for feminist, LGBT and disability groups.
The call to action specifically recognised the rights of adolescents – particularly girls, transgender, and gender non-confirming adolescents – to access the information, programmes and services they need to control their bodies.
“Though we’ve made significant progress since Cairo, for too many, the promise of ICPD remains unfulfilled,” said the authors of the call to action, which include the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre on Women, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era, Fiji Grassroots Feminist Network, International Women’s Health Coalition, and Realizing Sexual and Reproductive Justice.
“We must go further and be bolder in our demands. The time is now to commit to a new agenda that recognises intersecting forms of discrimination and offers actionable and sustainable solutions to achieve gender equality.”