Published on Saturday, March 5, 2005 by Reuters
US Draws Jeers for Abortion Comments at UN
by Deborah Zabarenko
UNITED NATIONS - Jeers and catcalls greeted the top U.S. delegate to a global women's conference on Friday as she stressed Washington's opposition to abortion and support for sexual abstinence and fidelity.
After withdrawing an unpopular anti-abortion amendment from a key U.N. document, the United States joined in approving the declaration that reaffirmed a 150-page platform agreed 10 years ago at a landmark U.N. women's conference in Beijing.
The final approval prompted cheers, applause and a standing ovation by some participants.
However, top U.S. delegate Ellen Sauerbrey drew boos from the audience, which included some of the 6,000 activists who came from around the world, when she commented on Washington's interpretation of the document.
"We have stated clearly and on many occasions ... that we do not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance," Sauerbrey said.
The loudest catcalls, unusual at the world body, came when she articulated U.S. policy on AIDS prevention for adolescents: "We emphasize the value of the ABC -- abstinence, be faithful, and correct and consistent condom use where appropriate -- approach in comprehensive strategies to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and the promotion of abstinence as the healthiest and most responsible choice for adolescents."
Earlier Friday, Sauerbrey said the United States was dropping its demand that the document be amended to say that abortion is a matter of national sovereignty and not a human right delineated by the 1995 conference in Beijing.
After a week of closed-door negotiations at the United Nations during a two-week conference on women's equality, Sauerbrey said the U.S. point had been made and therefore Washington's amendment was no longer needed.
U.S. GOALS ACCOMPLISHED
The first version of the abandoned amendment said the Beijing meeting's final document did not recognize abortion as a fundamental right; a later version said the document did not create any new international human rights, code for abortion.
"We think we have really accomplished what we set out to do," Sauerbrey said. "We have heard from countries ... that our interpretation is their interpretation. So the amendment we recognize is really redundant, but it has accomplished its goals. We will be withdrawing the amendment."
Despite U.S. lobbying, support for Washington's abortion stance was limited to the Vatican, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama.
Mary Ann Dantuono, the Vatican delegate, was interrupted by shouts when she said the Catholic Church "would have preferred a clearer statement emphasizing that the Beijing documents cannot be interpreted as creating new human rights including the right to abortion."
Delegates from the European Union, Asia and Africa forcefully opposed the U.S. position.
"The text of Beijing is unequivocally clear. We should not spend hours splitting hairs over phrases that mean the same thing," said New Zealand's U.N. Ambassador Don Mackay, speaking for his country, Canada and Australia. He said the Beijing document included a woman's right to control her sexuality.
Nigeria echoed Mackay's sentiments on women's sexuality, but thanked Washington for withdrawing its amendment.
The current U.N. session is meant to assess how far women have come toward equality since the 1995 Beijing conference and a follow-up meeting five years ago. Organizers seeking consensus drafted a streamlined document they hoped would be easily approved without controversy.
© 2005 Reuters Ltd