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Concern is growing that access to abortion may be included in the 15-year UN development programme that will replace the Millennium Development Goals from the end of next year.
Cafod has said it will be unable to giving 100 per cent backing to the new goals, currently in draft form, which already contain a commitment to grant universal access to sexual and reproductive health.
The 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals will replace the eight existing goals, with the primary aim to end poverty by 2030, and contain for the first time a direct reference to women. The fifth goal currently reads: "Attain gender equality, empower women and girls everywhere."
The accompanying text, still in draft form, includes bringing an end to female genital mutilation, as well as a commitment to "ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights." Pro-choice groups such as Marie Stopes International – who received £41.5 million in Government funding this year – are campaigning for a dedicated target on sexual and reproductive health and rights under the current health goal.
The 13th session of the working group drawing up the new goals takes place in New York next week.
But a Holy See source told The Tablet: “Unfortunately abortion rights are being promoted by some national and international bodies even before rights to basic health necessities like clean water and sanitation. The African groups of nations at the UN are generally not in favour of this stand. They are promoters of a more realistic vision of what is needed for true growth in health.”
The UK Government is backing the inclusion of the target to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health for all in the post-2015 development framework and will play an active role in the negotiations over the new goals.
A spokesman for the Department for International Development said: "We do not promote abortion as a method of family planning and we are working to increase access to modern methods of contraception. Where abortion is permitted we can support programmes that make safe abortion more accessible.”
Neil Thorns, director of advocacy at Cafod said the charity supported 95 per cent of the new framework, which overall, was too important to jeopardise in an argument over sexual health. He said there was a "dividing line" and Cafod simply will "not engage" with that aspect of the Sustainable Development Goals. He said the teaching of the Church will "always" guide the work of Cafod.