Abortion is Not a Right, US Tells UN

By Patrick Goodenough | March 1, 2005 | 8:05pm EST


(CNSNews.com) - There is no fundamental "right" to abortion, but non-governmental groups (NGOs) are trying to "hijack" language in key United Nations documents, to define terms like "sexual rights" in such a way as to include abortion, a senior U.S. official said Monday.

Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey, the U.S. delegate to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), was speaking at a press conference in New York.

She is representing the U.S. government at a high-level CSW session reviewing the progress made in promoting equality for women in the 10 years since a major U.N. conference on women was held in Beijing.

Organizers want the Feb. 28 - March 11 gathering to issue a short and unanimous declaration, affirming documents that came out of the Beijing meeting.

The Bush administration is pressing for the statement to say categorically that the documents do not create any new international human rights and "do not include the right to abortion." Discussions on the draft will continue on the sidelines of the conference.

Since President Bush began his first term in January 2001, he has limited or withdrawn funding to foreign NGOs or other groups that carry out or advocate abortion. He has also blocked U.S. funding for the U.N. Population Fund, because of links to China's coercive family-planning policies.

The policies have been slammed by campaigners who accuse the White House of "conducting a war against women."

The administration has also sought since 2001 to clarify vague or undefined wording in international documents, arguing that phrases like "reproductive rights" and "reproductive health services" are interpreted by some to refer to abortion.

In some cases, despite supporting the broader measure, the U.S. has opposed resolutions after failing in a bid to have such wording amended or removed.

A number of women's rights NGOs issued statements last week voicing concern that the U.S. may withdraw from the Beijing agreements because of the abortion issue.

In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, more than 30 organizations said they wanted Bush "to join and cooperate with other countries in the unequivocal re-affirmation" of the Beijing documents.

"We are asking for your help in ensuring that this message is heard and acted upon at the highest levels in our country," they wrote.

NGOs themselves have acknowledged - in documents not intended for public consumption - that they are covertly pushing an abortion agenda in international forums.

"There is a stealth quality to the work," the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) said in one internal memo in 2003.

"We are achieving incremental recognition of values without a huge amount of scrutiny from the [pro-life] opposition," the NGO said in documents that were introduced onto the Congressional Record by a pro-life lawmaker.

"These lower profile victories will gradually put us in a strong position to assert a broad consensus around our assertions."

One memo said the CRR international legal program's "overarching goal is to ensure that governments worldwide guarantee reproductive rights out of an understanding that they are bound to do so."

'Sexual rights'

In a current CRR document, available on its website, the group hails as a promising development the fact that six U.N. human rights bodies now acknowledge "sexual and reproductive rights."

They are the Committee against Torture, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the Human Rights Committee.

"Most [of those treaty-monitoring bodies] now routinely recommend that governments take action to ensure sexual and reproductive rights for women, thus removing any doubt that these rights are protected in binding human rights treaties," CRR says.

According to the website of the International Women's Health Coalition, "sexual rights" include the right to access "safe abortion" along with other things, including the right to contraception and the right to say no to violence, rape, abuse or forced marriage.

In his opening remarks to the New York meeting Monday, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan spoke of the need to "guarantee sexual and reproductive health and rights," according to a transcript on the U.N. website.

In her press conference later, Sauerbrey pointed to the use in U.N. documents of the undefined term "sexual rights" and noted that Annan had used it earlier in the day.

"There is no fundamental right to abortion," she said. "And yet it keeps coming up, largely driven by NGOs trying to hijack the term and trying to make it into a definition."

'Emphasize marriage and family'

The U.S. government disputes NGOs' accusations about its policies harming women.

It plans to introduce two resolutions at the conference, on empowering women economically and on sex trafficking and prostitution.

"Achieving global respect for women is a U.S. foreign policy imperative," Undersecretary for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky said in a statement prepared for the conference.

Dobriansky cited the situation in Afghanistan, where millions of women were able to vote in the country's first-ever free presidential election last October.

Dobriansky also pointed to other areas, including education and literacy training, loans for aspiring women entrepreneurs, maternal and child health care programs, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment centers and anti-trafficking projects.

Warning that the meeting in New York could be "sidelined into discussions largely unrelated to the everyday welfare of women," Heritage Foundation domestic policy scholars Jennifer A. Marshall, Melissa G. Pardue and Grace V. Smith said the U.S. should focus on the importance of the family and marriage.

"In general the Beijing documents appear to pay lip service to the concepts of family and marriage, but they offer no convincing policy solutions that will strengthen or promote either institution," they said in an article published Monday.

"The U.S. contribution to this discussion should incorporate the vital role of strong families in reducing a whole host of social ills. The U.S. Department of State should work to build an alliance of family-friendly nations that will work together to support and uphold the value and importance of family and marriage."

A new report by the World Bank said that in 10 years since the Beijing conference, there was evidence that "the lives of women and girls around the world have, on average, improved, due in part to concerted action by the international community and national governments."

It referred in particular to improvements in female education levels; life expectancy for women in developing countries; women's participation in the labor force; and women's property and inheritance rights in parts of Latin America and Asia.

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