US Angers Allies over Abortion Issue at UN Population Conference
The Bush administration angered several allies over the issue of abortion and reproductive health at the Fifth Asian and Pacific Population Conference in Bangkok this past week. Officials in the Bush administration argue that phrases such as “reproductive health services” and “reproductive rights” can be used to promote abortion, according to the New York Times. The Bush Administration wants the language to be changed to promote more “natural” family-planning methods, the Times reports. The US has threatened to back out of the landmark United Nations (UN) population policy developed at a 1994 conference in Cairo over its disagreement with the language of the policy.
The goal of the conference is to rethink the population-development links within the various agencies of the UN, such as the linkages among population, environment, resources and poverty. According to the Times, many European and Asian diplomats and representatives of non-profit organizations that attended the conference, representing over 30 nations, felt that the refusal of the Bush administration to budge from discussion of the language regarding reproductive rights made the discussion of other important issues, like HIV prevention, virtually impossible. Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) told the Times that “This is another example of the Bush Administration versus the world that, regrettably, will be at the expense of women.”
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 Philadelphia 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 withholding $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. According to the Toronto Star, since Bush withdrew funding for the UNFPA last summer, programs in several countries have been slashed or suspended, including family planning programs in eight rural districts of Kenya, an initiative to cut maternal deaths in Mozambique, a program to stop the spread of AIDS in Mozambique, the training of emergency obstetrics for doctors in Bangladesh, the first population study in East Timor to help plan AIDS prevention, and a two-year plan in India to reduce neonatal mortality.