Norway: Religion and morality “hazards” to Women’s rights

Posted on | March 19, 2012 by Timothy Herrmann |

At the conclusion of the 56th session of Commission on the Status of Women, Norway’s Ambassador Morten Wetland made an extremely strong statement condemning any religion, morality or tradition that stands in the way of the human rights of women.

For Norway, this essentially means that any group that does not consider abortion (or “sexual and reproductive rights”) to be a human right, is getting in the way of the human rights of women. What is most striking however, is not their verbal attack on the values that cultures “hold most dear” but their irresponsible use of the term “moral hazard”.

After the financial crisis, many of us became frightfully aware of what the term “moral hazard” describes. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, “moral hazard” is the “tendency to take undue risks because the costs are not borne by the party taking the risk”. For example, if you know that the government is going to bail you out even if the risks you take in the financial market would be too risky otherwise, you are more likely to take those risks anyway, especially when you are using someone else’s money.

In Norway’s statement, which I have published below in full, the Norwegians would like you to believe that those responsible for the utter failure of CSW this year were participating in a dangerous game of “moral hazard”. From their perspective, those countries that refused to allow for language supportive of an international right to abortion into the final outcome document or “agreed conclusions”, were compromising a woman’s right to abortion and her well being merely for the defense of their own ignorant beliefs.

Norway would also claim that standing up for such backward values is an easy thing to do, especially when those who defend them have less to loose than the women  kept from a “right” to abortion. But again, that is what they claim. Unfortunately for them, this year it was undeniable that the only countries worried about women and their health at CSW were the countries that fought adamantly for woman’s health care over an invented “right” to abortion.

This past week, it was the United States, Norway, and the European Union that were unwilling to compromise on ideology and to support language that would benefit the health of mothers and rural women, not people of faith. For people of faith, the family is sacred and the mother’s role invaluable. Thus it goes without saying that the health of the woman, and the health care she deserves to receive when she is pregnant, is a priority for countries that support traditional values. Unfortunately, for the EU, US, and Nordic countries, the right to abortion was of even greater importance than these values.

In fairness to their perspective, it must be pointed out that they believe abortion to be a health “service” and an inalienable right of women. But, what is not fair, and what was the true moral hazard at the 56th session of CSW, was that these same countries were willing to compromise on women’s health for the sake of the right to abortion.

Their claim is simple, abortion, particularly when it’s illegal, is unsafe and kills women. This is true, it can and does kill women. However, abortion is never entirely safe and, in numbers, it is not even a blip on the radar in terms of the main causes of maternal mortality, especially in the developing world where abortion is often illegal. And yet, a country like Norway is willing to allow something like a right to abortion keep the majority of countries that belong to the UN from coming to an agreed conclusion on Women’s health because a majority of countries refuse to accept an international right to abortion as a matter of women’s health.

So, what was the real moral hazard at this year’s CSW? The abortion ideology of Norway and its supporters. Ideology by its very definition blinds one to the truth, and forces the ideologue to adhere to a specific brand of morality even when it is unreasonable. It kept Norway from recognizing and addressing the real causes of maternal mortality and from working to prevent them.  And it is why Norway, blinded by its own ideology, along with the United States and Europe, failed the woman and her health this year at the 56th session of CSW. It is also why people of faith, who truly understand the experience of women, not in “theory” but in practice, were so upset that it was impossible to reach an agreement on the most basic health needs of women.

The following is Norway’s final statement. I have also included that of the Holy See, which expresses my argument far more eloquently.


“Madame Chair, fellow delegates,

The term – “Moral Hazard” – is often used when someone takes a risky decision – because they know that someone else will pay if the decision is wrong.

I am sad to say, this is precisely what we have witnessed at this year’s meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women:

In statements and in speeches – and in negotiations -

we have seen how moral values have been evoked,

to deprive women of their Human Rights, their opportunities – and ultimately, for some – their life!

This is the real Moral Hazard of our time!

Fellow delegates,

Norway fully respects and protects religious freedom and cultural diversity.

But we cannot accept that religious, cultural and certain so-called moral arguments are being used to block decisions and avoid obligations we all know would give millions of women freedom and save hundreds of thousands of lives every year.

All countries and cultures have their traditions and hold them dear.

But in 2012, with the knowledge we now have with regard to women’s rights, opportunities and health, we also know that certain perspectives and practices are harmful –and dangerous – to women.

This means we have to compromise. Many will have to let go of some traditional convictions, also when they are based on religious belief or culture.

After all, every country, every culture and every society undergo permanent change.

That’s what’s called – development.

Norway will therefore continue to insist that the United Nations, including the Commission on the Status of Women, should take rational decisions for a better world for all – including all women.

Thank you Madame Chair.”

The Holy See

Madame Chairperson,

With regard to the present resolution, my delegation stresses that the elimination of preventable maternal mortality and morbidity is directly linked to the provision of adequate healthcare. What are needed especially are skilled birth attendants, prenatal and postnatal care for mother and child, and emergency obstetric care.

My delegation notes with grave concern various agendas which were being advanced during the negotiations regarding so-called “reproductive rights,” a term on which no international consensus exists. My delegation laments the attempt by the main sponsor of the resolution to de-link the term from the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) on which many States have reservations. By their legislation, numerous States have and remain committed to opposing abortion and thus to upholding the rights of the unborn. It is an incontrovertible fact that abortion kills the unborn child and causes harm to the mother. For this reason there is no such thing as a “safe” abortion.

Language contained with the ICPD Programme of Action affirms respect for religious and ethical values (cf., Chapter II, Principles). Regrettably, the main sponsor failed to allow a paragraph to affirm these principles which respect conscience and the freedom of religion. Likewise, the attempt to change language contained within the Programme of Action regarding family planning—that is, family planning which is acceptable [cf., 7.14 (c) and 7.5 (a)]—amounts to a wholesale attempt at rewriting history to advance an agenda disrespectful of marriage and the family.

It is the sacred and solemn responsibility of parents to care for their children and no one—including the state—has a right to advance an agenda which does not respect the natural moral law. The attempt on the part of the main sponsor of the text to not recognize the prior and primary responsibilities, rights, and duties of parents regarding their children, is disrespectful of the nature of marriage and the family and undermines international law (cf., Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26,3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 18,4; Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 5 and 18,1). The advancement of an agenda which promotes “sex education” and artificial contraception to children, and completely disregards their parent’s involvement, is antithetical to the role of the state which has the responsibility to promote the common good of the family and society.

It is tragic that the present resolution is clouded by various attempts to advance the aforementioned agendas which are contrary to respect for human life. An authentic rights-based approach to eliminating preventable maternal mortality and morbidity respects fully all human persons and thus all women, and is an approach which necessarily includes, inter alia, respect for the life of all persons, from conception to natural death, freedom of conscience, full respect for religious liberty, and the promotion of the common good. While the present resolution addresses some of the concerns facing pregnant mothers, my delegation hopes that in the future these concerns will be fully addressed, so that mothers and fathers and their children will truly be affirmed in keeping with their dignity.

In closing, Madame Chairperson, my delegation reaffirms all of the Holy See’s reservations on past occasions with regard to the meaning of the term “sexual and reproductive health” and “reproductive rights” which should not include abortion or abortion services. Moreover, the Holy See in no way endorses contraception or the use of condoms, either as a family planning measure or as part of HIV/AIDS prevention programmes or classes/programmes of education in sexuality. Regarding the term “gender” and its many uses in the text, my delegation once again reaffirms the use of “gender” as referring to “women and men,” or male and female, according to its ordinarily agreed usage before, during and after negotiation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

The Holy See – as well as many women in the world – is convinced that the true advancement of women is strongly linked to the recognition and the effective implementation of their rights, dignity and responsibilities.

I would request that this statement be duly reflected in the records of this meeting.

Thank you, Madame Chairperson”



Turtle Bay and Beyond is a blog covering international law, policy and institutions. Our experts - at the UN, European Institutions, and elsewhere - explore an authentic understanding of international law, sovereignty, and the dignity of the human person. We expose those who would seek to impose a radical social vision that is contrary to these principles.


RSS Feed

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Recent Articles

  • Categories

  • Authors