U.S. Pushes U.N. on Abortion Declaration

Monday, February 28th 2005, 10:41 am
By: News On 6

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Ten years after the world's nations pledged to achieve equality for women, a follow-up meeting has become embroiled in controversy over a U.S. demand that its final declaration state that women are not guaranteed the right to abortion.

In informal consultations ahead of Monday's meeting to take stock of progress in implementing the landmark platform adopted at the 1995 U.N. women's conference in Beijing, the United States raised the abortion issue as a first order of business.

The U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, which organized the high-level meeting, had hoped the two-week session would focus on overcoming the roadblocks to women's equality in 12 critical areas from health, education and employment to political participation and human rights.

But the dispute over abortion is likely to dominate the headlines and the closed-door debate on the final declaration.

The assessment of Beijing starts with three days of ministerial speeches and meetings, with numerous events on the sidelines. Over 100 countries and 6,000 advocates for women's causes are expected to take stock of what countries have done to implement the 150-page Beijing platform for action.

``The review provides an opportunity to confront the major obstacles that are preventing women from advancing in the economic, political, and social spheres,'' said Rachel Majanja, the top advisor to Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the advancement of women. ``It is time to recommit to the promises made to women 10 years ago in Beijing and make gender equality a reality.''

The Commission on the Status of Women drafted a short declaration which it had hoped to have adopted by consensus before Monday's opening session.

It would have nations reaffirm the Beijing platform and an accompanying declaration, welcome progress toward achieving gender equality, stress that challenges remain, and ``pledge to undertake further action to ensure their full and accelerated implementation.''

But at an informal closed-door meeting on Thursday, the United States said it could not accept the declaration because of its concerns that the Beijing platform legalized the right to abortion as a human right, according to several participants.

On Friday, the United States proposed an amendment to the draft declaration that would reaffirm the Beijing platform and declaration _ but only ``while reaffirming that they do not create any new international human rights, and that they do not include the right to abortion,'' according to the text obtained by The Associated Press.

Kyung-wha Kang, who chairs the commission, said the declaration is not meant to add anything new but simply ``to give Beijing further momentum for further implementation.''

The Beijing platform is a policy document with specific recommendations that all nations agreed to, she stressed, not a legally binding treaty which is where human rights are enshrined.

``It's not a human rights convention,'' Kang said. ``It's a policy document. In that sense, I personally as chair do not think it should be seen as creating any new human rights.''

But Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, said ``These amendments are consistent with U.S. government views.''

At the 1994 U.N. population conference in Cairo, delegates approved a platform recognizing that abortion is a fact that governments must deal with as a public health issue. At Beijing the following year, delegates reaffirmed this and went further, asking governments to review laws that punish women for having abortions.

But attempts to approve stronger language on access to abortions failed at Beijing, and references to sexual rights and sexual orientation were dropped. Nonetheless, the Beijing platform stated for the first time that women have the right to ``decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality ... free of coercion, discrimination and violence.''

The Vatican and a handful of Islamic and Catholic countries opposed any reference to abortion at those conferences, while the West and hundreds of women's rights activists supported them _ including the Clinton administration.

But his successor, President Bush, has taken a much tougher stand against abortion, as reflected in the proposed amendment.