Washington puts heat on UN over abortion
The US Government has insisted a United Nations document on
women's equality makes clear that abortion is not a fundamental
right and has accused activists of trying to distort the issue.
Even the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in his opening speech
to a high-level review session of the 1995 Beijing Conference on
Women, came in for criticism for using the term "sexual
"There is no fundamental right to abortion," said Ellen
Sauerbrey, the US delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of
Women, running the review.
"And yet it keeps coming up largely driven by NGOs trying to
hijack the term and trying to make it into a definition," she told
a news conference. She would not name any of the groups.
The UN meeting, with at least 100 government delegations, 80
ministers and about 6000 advocates of women's rights, was reviewing
progress since the landmark global conference in Beijing 10 years
Rather than producing a weighty document, the organisers decided
to keep controversies in check by writing a short declaration that
reaffirms and pledges implementation of the 150-page platform of
action agreed in Beijing.
But, to the dismay of European and some Latin American
delegates, the US submitted amendments, declaring the Beijing
conference did not include the right to abortion.
In Beijing, abortion was treated as a health issue, with the
150-page platform saying it should be safe where it was legal and
criminal action should not be taken against women who underwent the
The Bush Administration does not disagree with this but has
instituted a variety of policies to make sure any US foreign
assistance is not used for abortions.
Mr Annan, in his address, said governments had to "guarantee
sexual and reproductive health and rights", noting that half a
million women die of pregnancy-related causes every year.
The Beijing conference called on governments to end
discrimination in education, health care, politics, employment,
inheritance rights and many other fields. But it broke new ground
by stating women, and in many cases girls forced to marry young,
had the right to decide how often they would have children "without
The US has also drafted two resolutions for the conference - on
sex trafficking and prostitution, and on empowering women
economically, which will refer to property rights, Ms Sauerbrey
Women now own about 2 per cent of all land but produce half the
food grown, according to UN figures.
In many societies, the right for women to own and inherit
property is neglected and in some countries it is forbidden.
More controversial is a draft resolution on trafficking which Ms
Sauerbrey said would take small steps towards outlawing
prostitution by asking for research into the relationship of sex
tourism and luring women and girls into brothels.
UN figures show that 90 per cent of foreign sex workers in the
Balkans are victims of trafficking and at least 700,000 people,
mostly women and children, are trafficked each year across
Girls as young as 13 from Asia and eastern Europe are trafficked
as "mail-order brides".