The Bush Administration threatened last week to back out of a landmark United Nations (UN) population policy ratified by 179 nations in 1994 if the terms “reproductive rights” and “reproductive health services” were not removed from the language of the agreement, according to the New York Times. The American delegation to the Asian and Pacific Population Conference delivered this threat to the surprised attendees, receiving immediate criticism from the Chinese, Indian, and Indonesian delegations. Louise Oliver, an anti-abortion activist and senior coordinator for International Population Policy for the US State Department, said that the Bush Administration opposed these terms because they implied a right to abortion, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The 1994 Cairo agreement shifted the world’s approach to reducing rapid population growth away from coercive, numbers-based programs to voluntary family planning programs that at their core were about empowering women to make choices and have control over their lives. Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) stated in a draft of a letter to Secretary of States Colin Powell that “the impact of [the Bush Administration’s] public statements is devastating and could undermine 10 years of work,” according to the Times.
This is only the latest in a series of Bush-led attacks on reproductive rights worldwide. In May, the Bush Administration allied itself with the Vatican and several Islamic countries at the UN special session on children in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to pass a policy that would prevent teenagers from getting abortions, according to the Inquirer. Bush was successful, however, in getting “reproductive health services” dropped from the language of this agreement as well as removing any strong language in favor of comprehensive sexuality education. In August, the US again united with the Vatican and Islamic nations in an attempt to prevent the inclusion of human rights language in the document produced at the UN’s World Summit on Sustainable Development. However, at the last minute, Canadian and European delegates were able to add 10 important words to a paragraph that promotes the strengthening of women’s health care: “and in conformity with all human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Canada originally proposed the inclusion of a specific statement of human rights tied to women’s healthcare in an effort to prevent such atrocities as female genital mutilation and to safeguard abortion rights
Bush’s most publicized break from the international community on family planning, however, was his withholding of $34 million appropriated by Congress for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on the basis of inflammatory rhetoric by the far-right wing Population Research Institute alleging that the UNFPA supports coercive population control in China. Despite the fact that Bush’s own handpicked investigative team found no evidence to back PRI’s claim, Bush still would not release the funds to the UNFPA, which provides crucial family planning and health services to women in many developing countries.