Ambiguity: Clause on aborition (1994 Cairo Conference on Population)

28 June 2002

Louise Lassonde (Coping with Population Challenges, London: Earthscan Publications Limited, 1996, 7) provides the following example: "In the Cairo Programme, various formulations which were contradictory a priori were worded in such a way as to satisfy all parties. This is what happened in the controversy over abortion, which was circumvented by means of a wording that satisfied all groups. It reads as follows:
 

"In those circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be safe".
 

In other words, safety (and therefore the possibility of an abortion) is not relevant where a government regards abortion as unthinkable.Safety is recommended, however, where abortion is not unthinkable. Consequently, since all positions on abortion are given equal weight, the wording agreed upon satisfies both those who wish abortion to be safe and those who do not want to acknowledge their legitimacy except in specific circumstances spelt out in their domestic legislation. Although these wordings are sometimes convoluted and disconcerting for those not participating in the negotiations, they are of vital importance. This is becase they express a concept which is particularly effective since it is deliberately charged with a multiplicity of meanings, and so makes it possible to break a deadlock in negotiations."

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