UK Under Pressure from Europe & NGOs Over Deletion of Abortion Commitments

The United Kingdom is under mounting pressure from Europe and human rights groups to explain why commitments to abortion and sexual health rights have been silently removed from an official statement on gender equality. 

Denmark and Norway have approached the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) “to protest against the substantive changes” made to a paper that was drafted after a UK-hosted conference on freedom of religion and belief. 

The International Ministerial Freedom of Religion or Belief Conference 2022 was opened by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who is now one of two contenders to be the next Prime Minister. 

The original text of the Statement on Freedom of Religion Or Belief and Gender Equality was signed by more than 20 countries, including the two that have filed complaints. 

The original wording included a commitment to the repeal of any laws that “allow harmful practices, or restrict women’s and girls’… sexual and reproductive health and rights, bodily autonomy.” 

But these phrases have been removed. In a later version of the international pact, currently online and signed by six countries, those phrases are nowhere to be seen. 

The six countries that have signed the new wording include the UK and Malta, where abortion is illegal. Malta was not one of the original signatories. 

In an open letter to Truss was published today, more than 20 human rights, pro-choice, and international aid groups, demanded the British government reverse the deletions immediately and explain why they were made. 

“At a time when abortion provision around the world is under serious threat, due to the reversal of Roe v Wade, it has never been more important for the UK government to stand up for sexual and reproductive health and rights and bodily autonomy,” the open letter said. 

Among the organizations are Humanists UK, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), MSI Reproductive Choices, and Amnesty International UK. 

The groups expressed “serious concern” about the changes, and urged the British government to reverse the move, and explain why the change happened in the first place. 

The international ministerial conference was held in early July in London. The prime minister’s special envoy on the Freedom of Religion or Belief, Conservative MP Fiona Bruce, was heavily involved. She is the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary “pro-life” group of MPs. 

The resulting amended statement makes a commitment to challenging “discriminatory laws that justify, condone or reinforce violence, discrimination or inequalities on the grounds of religion, belief or gender and that restrict women and girls’ full and equal enjoyment of human rights.” 

There is no mention of sexual or reproductive rights or of body autonomy. 

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