and feminist groups are voicing outrage over what they say are new steps by United
States President George W. Bush to roll back decades of progress in securing basic
reproductive health rights for women and girls at home and overseas.
Activists warned Monday that the administration may be preparing to renounce a major international "program of action" adopted by consensus by 179 nations, including the U.S., at the 1994 UN Conference on Population and Development in Cairo because of Bush's opposition to abortion.
They are also concerned about a recent move by the State Department to freeze
some US$3 million for the World Health Organization (WHO) due to pressure
from U.S. anti-abortion activists who object to the Geneva-based agency's Human
Reproduction Program which has been conducting research on mifepristone, better
known as RU-486, that terminates pregnancies shortly after conception.
"We want to know that the administration is not jeopardizing...WHO and other
important UN programs because of a small group of anti-choice zealots," according
to New York Republican Carolyn Maloney, one of nine Democratic members of congress
who protested the freeze in a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell released
The group said the administration's interpretation of a 1985 U.S. law, the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, that banned using U.S. aid for financing or supporting abortions abroad, "could cripple more reputable UN programs that provide life-saving services to women and children around the world.
The new controversies have erupted just four months after the administration announced that it would not release $34 million dollars earmarked by Congress last year for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) due to that agency's work with China's Ministry of Health and State Family Planning Commission (SFPC) which, in some parts of the country, has supported coercive abortion or sterilization programs.
While a special State Department delegation sent to China to investigate UNFPA's work there found that it did not provide any direct support for such coercive policies, the administration nonetheless concluded that the mere fact that UNFPA provided material aid, such as computers and medical equipment, to the SFPC was sufficient to fall afoul of the Kemp-Kasten ban.
The decision marked the first time that Kemp-Kasten had been used as a justification to eliminate U.S. funding of UNFPA.
The State Department's freeze of money for WHO's Human Reproduction Program,
which was disclosed late last week, has raised fears that other UN programs involved
in reproductive health issues may now face a similar cut-off. Washington last
year provided $120 million dollars to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), $108
million to WHO, $97 million to the UN Development Program, and almost $800
million to the World Bank. All these agencies have reproductive health programs
and work with China's SFPC.
"If your Administration follows the same interpretation that was used to defund UNFPA," wrote the members of congress, "we fear that the funding for each of these other organizations will also be jeopardized because each provides assistance to the SFRC." The lawmakers sought assurances from Powell that the same interpretation would not apply to the other agencies.
The administration's threat to renounce the Cairo Plan of Action was conveyed by the U.S. delegation to a preparatory meeting in Bangkok last week of the Asian and Pacific Population Conference, according to The New York Times.
The delegates reportedly warned that Washington would back out of the Cairo consensus unless the terms "reproductive rights" and "reproductive health services" were removed from the text of the agreement. The administration opposed these terms because they implied a right to abortion.
"Hiding behind the word 'abortion,' Bush is single-handedly attempting to
roll back commitments made at this and previous world conferences and to ignore
agreed-upon human rights and fundamental freedoms," charged Dr. Steven Sinding,
director-general of the International Planned Parenthood Federation in London.
At the State Department, however, spokesman Richard Boucher Monday insisted that the administration had not yet decided on its position on a section of a document to be completed by delegations to the Asian and Pacific Population Conference that will take place in mid-December, also in Bangkok. That section deals with past UN-sponsored population meetings, including the 1994 Cairo conference.
In previous meetings, Boucher said, Washington has added a footnote to the relevant section of the text that notes that "in [the U.S.] view, reproductive health does not include support for abortion."
"The Secretary [of State], at this stage in the process, has not been asked to approve negotiating instructions," Boucher said.
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