|U.S. Raises Abortion Issue at Conference on Families|
U.S. Raises Abortion Issue at Conference on FamiliesNew York Times, December 15, 2002, Late Edition - Final
By James Dao
Taking its fight against abortion overseas, the Bush administration opened a sharp debate over a landmark family-planning agreement during a United Nations conference this week, angering several of its allies, European and Asian diplomats said today.
The skirmish has been taking place at a United Nations regional family-planning conference in Bangkok, where the United States has threatened to withdraw its support for a 1994 family-planning agreement reached in Cairo that called for bringing population growth under control by improving the legal rights and economic status of women, as well as broadly expanding access to health care. Administration officials contend that some phrases in the Cairo agreement – including "reproductive health services" and "reproductive rights" – can be construed as promoting abortion. The Bush administration has also called for inserting language that promotes "natural" family-planning methods, officials said.
But an array of Asian and European diplomats attending the conference, as well as representatives of nonprofit organizations observing the event, asserted on Friday that the United States delegation was virtually isolated in its position. These observers said the administration was opposed by the majority of the approximately 30 nations represented at the conference, including India, Indonesia, China and Pakistan.
They also argued that the American delegation's refusal to budge from its demands had stalemated the conference and made discussion of other pressing issues, like H.I.V. and AIDS prevention, impossible.
"People hoped to discuss very practical, service oriented things: how to develop services to deal with sexually transmitted infections, H.I.V. and AIDS, how to do sex education," an Asian diplomat said. "People's frustration was that we're not able to discuss what we really want to discuss, because the U.S. insists on renegotiating key Cairo concepts which we are not willing to do."
Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat who supports abortion rights and who sent an observer to the conference, said, "This is another example of the Bush Administration versus the world that, regrettably, will be at the expense of women."
But a State Department official asserted that "some participants in the conference are seeking to force the United States to agree to language supporting abortion."
"Our goals are to focus on poverty, health and education, respect for women and the family as the fundamental unit of society," the official said. "We seek an outcome that does not support or promote abortion."
The fight in Bangkok comes at a time when the Bush administration has been trying to win international support for its Iraq policies and to dispel the perception that it is increasingly acting on its own. Some delegates argued that the dispute was undermining both efforts.
Those critics also asserted that the Bush White House, like the Reagan White House before it, was carrying the abortion fight overseas mainly to bolster its support among Catholic and fundamentalist Christian voters.
The critics also pointed to the presence of a former adviser to the Vatican, John Klink, on the United States delegation in Bangkok and at previous family-planning conferences. A State Department official said Mr. Klink was serving in a voluntary capacity at the behest of the White House.
"This is purely about domestic politics," said Adrienne Germain, president of the International Women's Health Coalition.
Originally published in The New York Times, December 15, 2002. Reprinted with permission.