The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) held the sixth meeting of parliamentarians in their population, development and reproductive health network in Stockholm on the occasion of twenty years since the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) meeting in Cairo, successfully promoting many of the issues it failed to advance during the recent Commission on Population and Development (CPD) meeting at the United Nations in New York. The Stockholm meeting was viewed with heightened importance as the United Nations is preparing the next set of sustainable development goals and UNFPA hopes that the outcome document will influence that process.
The invitation-only meeting in Stockholm was co-sponsored by the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development, the Swedish Parliament, the Swedish All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It included 250 lawmakers from 134 countries, the majority of which are aligned with regional and national groups established by UNFPA. The ICPD Programme of Action (PoA) identified national legislators as the gatekeepers on laws on abortion: "Any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process".
Parliamentary groups on population, development and reproductive health and rights are established worldwide by UNPFA, with assistance from International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International, in order to advance the undefined, broad, and contentious "sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)" agenda and to secure budget allocations and political will.
The outcome statement- Stockholm Statement of Commitment, On the Implementation of ICPD Beyond 2014-states commitments to increase access to abortion and to change sovereign laws and policies on abortion. The section Policies, Programmes and Laws that promote and protect the rights of women and girls and young peopleincludes:
"... to remove legal barriers preventing women and adolescent girls from access to safe abortion, including revising restrictions within existing abortion laws,"
"Review and repeal laws that punish women and girls who have undergone illegal abortions, as well as end imprisonment for such acts..."
Lawmakers' commitments target the post 2015 agenda with a focus on SRHR:
"...we commit to mobilize our constituencies and governments to support a human-rights based post 2015 development paradigm that ensures gender equality, women and adolescent's sexual and reproductive health and rights, and comprehensive development for youth;"
"We call for targets and indicators on sexual and reproductive health and rights to be included in the standalone goals on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; universal health goal including for universal health coverage,... as part of the post 2015 development agenda."
Not surprisingly, the parliamentarians are also committed to building additional partnerships with civil society to advance SRHR:
"Advocate for the role of civil society, including NGOs and youth groups in the formulation, and monitoring and evaluation of population and development policies and programmes including for achieving the goals of sexual and reproductive health and rights;"
Tragically, the obsession with abortion led to the failure to recognize one of the most critical periods in the health of individuals, the prenatal stage, as parliamentarians in the area of development planning called for "a life cycle approach from birth to ageing, to ensure lifelong capabilities and resilience". By ignoring the first stage of the life cycle-development in the womb-legislators failed to grasp the fact that the economic health of a country depends in a large part on the health of working adults who develop from healthy children whose optimal outcomes for well-being begin where their lives are valued in the womb and their mothers are provided with prenatal care and nutritious food to reduce stunted growth and malnutrition, and the poor cognitive and physical development that can result.
The ICPD Programme of Action (PoA) mentioned food sixteen times and nutrition twenty-eight times while the Stockholm Statement has zero references to either while also ignoring the development impact of migration with no references to either migration or migrants; the PoA includes fifty-three references to migrants.
Participants used social media to express their views during the meeting, especially Twitter. Hillevi Engström, Minister of International Development Cooperation Sweden, tweeted: "This is the most forward-looking statement of commitment on #SRHR in the history! You should be proud!" #IPCI2014.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout from Ireland tweeted @JillianvT: "Lawmakers in attendance 450 parliamentarians ready for 2nd day of #IPCI2014 Let's work to ensure the Stockholm Declaration of Commitment is an effective action plan."