Asian Pro-lifers Say US Is Providing 'Moral Leadership' At Population Conference

Patrick Goodenough | December 17, 2002 | 7:12pm EST
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Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Asian pro-lifers have praised the United States for standing firm - and alone - at a population conference in Thailand against language the Bush administration believes is used to promote abortion.

The U.S. delegation wants phrases like "reproductive health services" and "reproductive rights" removed from a plan of action due to be adopted before the U.N.-sponsored Asian and Pacific Population Conference in Bangkok ends late Tuesday.

The terms also appear in other population and "family planning" texts, including the landmark document arising from the 1994 International Conference of Population and Development in Cairo.

Pro-lifers and Bush administration officials believe the language is used as a device by those campaigning to water down laws restricting or outlawing abortion in parts of the world.

"It is good to see a large and powerful nation like the U.S. exercising moral leadership in these times when the world is blinded by a materialistic and hedonistic culture of death," said Andrew Kong of Celebration of Life, a Catholic pro-life program in Singapore.

"We hope that more people of goodwill of every nation, regardless of religion, will support the pro-life view and understand what abortion really stand for - the murder of innocent human lives by their own mothers," Kong said from Singapore Monday.

Sr. Mary Pilar Verzosa of Prolife Philippines also welcomed U.S. efforts in Bangkok to remove "wordings in the documents that would support induced abortion."

Verzosa, who works with sexually-abused, battered and unmarried pregnant women, said there was ample evidence from research showing abortion had devastating physical and psychological effects.

It was tragic when governments promoted abortion as "the solution to economic and social problems," she said Tuesday.

Involving several dozen countries including China, India and Indonesia, the conference aims to focus on ways in which issues like reproductive health and sexually-transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS, affect poverty in the Asia-Pacific region.

Pro-abortion non-governmental organizations (NGOs) attending the meeting have slammed the U.S. for its stance, saying it was holding up progress in important areas of fighting poverty.

U.S. delegate Arthur E. Dewey told a press briefing in Bangkok the changes to the texts that his delegation wanted were aimed at ensuring they "do not imply an advocacy or a support for abortion."

In his statement Monday to the ministerial segment of the conference, Dewey - who is assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration - said the gathering was trying to force the U.S. to "violate its principles and accept language that promotes abortion."

"We have been asked to reaffirm the entirety of the [Cairo] principles and recommendations, even though we have repeatedly stated that to do so would constitute endorsement of abortion."

He denied that the U.S. was backing down from the Cairo commitments, saying it continued to support strongly the "principles of putting human concerns at the center of development efforts."

Dewey noted that other delegations had rejected a U.S. proposal that a footnote be inserted saying explicitly that the phrases in question don't promote abortion.

"If the [Cairo document] does not promote abortion, why is there such unwillingness to affirm this in the draft document?" he asked.

U.S. 'turning back the clock'

U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) executive director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid repeated the agency's position about the language.

" 'Reproductive health services' is not code for the promotion or support for abortion services," she said.

Obaid noted that the Cairo document states that abortion should not be promoted as a method of family planning.

Every country had the sovereign right to make laws relating to reproductive health issues, including abortion, she said.

A parallel meeting of lawmakers called the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development issued its own statement voicing suspicions that Washington was trying to use the conference to push for amendments to U.S. laws on abortion.

Steven Sinding, director-general of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) also took the U.S. to task - without naming it - in a statement delivered at the opening of the ministerial segment on Monday.

"One major power, which played an important leadership role at Cairo, has completely reversed its position and has recently denied funding to both the [IPPF] and the [UNFPA]," he charged.

In recent international conference, he said, "that government engaged in an explicit attempt to roll back many of the core commitments and agreements that had been reached in Cairo."

Sinding urged delegates to resist efforts to "turn back the clock on sexual and reproductive health and rights."

Like Obaid, he also asserted that the Cairo declaration does not promote abortion.

"Dozens of countries in which abortion is illegal approved [it] because they understood very well that the terms 'reproductive health services' and 'reproductive rights' include abortion only in those countries where abortion is legal."

Another IPPF representative, Pramilla Senanyake, told the BBC Monday the U.S. was guilty of double standards - denying women around the world the same "rights" American women take for granted.

According to the U.N., the plan of action due for adoption in Bangkok on Tuesday would be a useful gauge to assess implementation of the Cairo declaration ahead of a major population meeting planned for its 10th anniversary, in 2004.

In line with its policy not to support programs promotion abortion, the Bush administration recently blocked $34 million in funds appropriated by Congress for the UNFPA.

It tied the decision to UNFPA support for programs in China which involve forced abortions and sterilizations as part of that country's controversial "one-child" policy.

The UNFPA, which denies promoting abortion, early this month urged the U.S. to reconsider.

Spokesman Stirling Scruggs said the move had cost the agency 12.5 percent of its annual budget for 2002 and had forced it to cut programs.

See also:
US Called 'Heroic' For Opposing Abortion At Population Summit (Dec. 17, 2002)
'Pro-Choice Catholics' Attack US, Vatican Policies (Dec. 12, 2002)

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