Speaking at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, Sweden’s minister for equality, Jens Orback received spontaneous applause when he said that denying women the right to abortion and contraception was placing lives at risk.
“It is rather obvious that we do not share this basic principle,” he said. “It’s absurd that we’re even discussing a woman’s right to her own body.”
The conference, being held in New York, is a follow-up to the first major meeting of this sort held in Beijng ten years ago. One of the main objectives is to assess progress on certain agreed goals in Beijing.
However, the United States wants to see a change in the so-called Peking Document. It says it will not provide funding to work which promotes abortion.
“There is no fundamental right to abortion,” said Ellen Sauerbrey, the USA’s delegate to the commission.
But Jens Orback said that the document did not go far enough.
“If it was up to us maybe it would be worded even more strongly. But at the moment there’s a movement in the other direction,” he said.
He told the media that “the US is building its alliances” and acknowledged that they had support at the Vatican, in the “conservative countries of Europe” and in certain underdeveloped regions of the world.
But Orback added that most EU ministers shared the Swedish view.
“It was interesting to see how united the other ministers were in sticking to the Peking Document,” he said. “Only Malta dissented.”
Orback was joined in New York by his predecessor, Margareta Winberg, who was no less forthcoming in her criticism of the US’s position on the issue. When news agency TT put it to her that the same things were being discussed as ten years ago, she lay the blame squarely on her hosts.
“I think it is very sad, and there’s one country which is responsible for it – the country we are in,” she said.
“Fundamentalist movements in other countries feel supported by the US on this matter. I think that’s a shame. But it also shows that this kind of conference is needed. You shouldn’t underestimate the conversation – it has a restraining effect,” said Winberg.
Swedish Radio reported that Jens Orback also used his platform at the meeting “to try to export the Swedish sex trade laws” and the Swedish government’s view that prostitution is violence against women.
“There is a lot of interest in this and the opposition is not countries but the big commercial interests,” said Orback.
“The whole sex industry is the opposition.”