|Bush To Alter Child Summit Policy|
Bush To Alter Child Summit Policy
Associated Press, August 29, 2001
By Dafna Linzer, Associated Press Writer
UNITED NATIONS—When the Bush administration launched a campaign to remove language it believes could support abortion counseling for teens from the draft document for an upcoming UN children's summit, its efforts seemed aimed at Latin America.
But so far, most of the support Washington has received on the issue has come from mostly Muslim nations including Sudan, Libya, Iran and Algeria, diplomats said.
Little attention was initially paid to the three references to "reproductive health services" in the draft of a document to be adopted at the Sept. 19-21 conference until a senior Canadian negotiator told delegates in June that the term includes abortion.
A week later—despite Canada's efforts to dismiss the remarks as a mistake—State Department cables went out to every US embassy in Central and South America instructing diplomats to lobby host governments to support American efforts to remove the wording.
The Associated Press viewed a copy of the cable, which specifically referred to the Canadian's remarks, and obtained a set of accompanying "talking points" to be used by the American diplomats in discussions with Latin governments.
It was a major shift from the Clinton administration, which helped draft wording that appears in documents adopted at UN population conferences in 1994 and 1999, and UN women's conferences in 1995 and 2000. The language explicitly says reproductive health services include abortion only where it is legal.
In the talking points sent out in June, US diplomats were told the term had enjoyed ambiguity until it was defined by the Canadian diplomat.
"The ambiguity no longer exists and therefore we seek to delete the phrase ... from the outcome document," they said.
When the US delegates returned to New York for a final set of negotiations this week, they were joined by an aide to Sen. Jesse Helms—the staunchly conservative North Carolina Republican with a long history of distrust toward the United Nations.
According to diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity, the US team on Monday supported a proposal by Sudan for moral sex education that promotes abstinence. Iran, Libya and Pakistan all found common ground with the United States in opposing the references to "services."
Muslim countries circulated their own position paper saying that "sex education should emphasize hygiene and chastity."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday that language disputes are common at UN conferences and Washington wanted to be certain the document was not going to endorse abortion or abortion counseling.
"We have every expectation that we can work them out, and that we can be there, and that we will be there at a high level," he said.
By contrast, the talking points informed diplomats that high-level US participation at the children's summit "will not be possible ... if language that could be construed to support abortion remains in the outcome document."
Françoise Girard of the International Women's Health Coalition said the new US approach "is a clear indication that the agenda of this administration is to take away abortion rights in this country."
The phrase "reproductive health services" currently appears in paragraphs of the draft that deal with a range of issues including immunization, education and child soldiers.
Copyright, 2001, Associated Press. Reprinted with permission.