Governments Fight Back Against CEDAW Committee

By Elizabeth Charnowski

(NEW YORK – C-FAM) Countries are fighting back against the CEDAW Committee’s questioning on abortion and maternal mortality as delegates complain about the inaccurate information the Committee relies on and the ideological rigidity of its experts. Committee experts insist abortion decreases maternal mortality, despite conflicting evidence, in order to push countries to change their abortion laws.

The 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) kicked off the 53nd session of the Committee in New York last week. The Committee is reviewing reports of Indonesia, Guyana, Mexico, and a few other countries.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) along with other pro-life organizations filed an extensive report to the CEDAW Committee focusing on the false correlations between liberalized abortion laws and maternal mortality. That report was outnumbered by reports filed by pro-abortion advocates.

Guyana, Indonesia, and Mexico detailed efforts to reduce maternal mortality. Throughout the session, CEDAW experts relied on arguments submitted by abortion advocates, instead of the data in the ADF or country reports.

Zohra Rasekh, one of the reputed health experts on the committee, questioned Guyana’s Human Services and Social Security Minister Jennifer Webster about reducing maternal mortality. Rasekh was previously an analyst for Population Action International, whose goals include advocating for access to contraception for all women. She stated that Guyana’s high rate of maternal mortality is linked to unsafe abortions, and safe abortions are not available in the country.

Ms. Webster replied that there is no data showing that maternal mortality is related to abortion laws. Moreover, public hospitals in Guyana must provide abortions, and the public health system is completely free. The Committee seemed taken aback by the challenge.

The episode made it into the Guyana Times, which reported the delegation complained about the reliance of experts on “alternative sources” for their data, especially when accurate data was available in their report. Guyanese delegates plan to file an official complaint over the CEDAW Committee’s questioning.

Rasekh questioned the Indonesian delegate on abortion and maternal mortality again relying on inaccurate data. Amnesty International’s report on Indonesia included parallel data, claiming that unsafe abortions account for 5 to 11% of all maternal deaths in the country, and that legalizing abortion would be a “positive step towards combating maternal mortality.”

After the delegate ignored the abortion questions, Rasekh asked again if Indonesia had any intention of changing its abortion laws, specifically to allow for abortion in the case of incest and for women less than 6 weeks pregnant. The delegate defended the laws of her country where abortion is only allowed when a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother or in the case of rape.

As much as the CEDAW Committee and NGOs insist the maternal mortality rate is linked to abortion, no evidence supports this claim. The ADF report stated data, including a recent Chilean study, that found legalizing abortion does not contribute to maternal mortality rates. Rather, education, increases in health care quality, and improved medical conditions are key to decreasing maternal mortality.

Elizabeth Charnowski writes for C-FAM. This article first appeared in the Friday Fax, an internet report published weekly by C-FAM (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute), a New York and Washington DC-based research institute ( This article appears with permission.

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