U.S. faces harsh criticism over abortion
By Suzanne Goldenberg— © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004
WASHINGTON, MARCH 1. The Bush administration
was accused yesterday of trying to roll back efforts to improve the
status of the world's women by demanding that the U.N. publicly
renounce abortion rights.
America's demand overshadowed the opening
yesterday of a conference intended to mark the 10th anniversary of the
Beijing conference on the status of women, an event seen as a landmark
in efforts to promote global cooperation on women's equality.
The U.S. stand was also widely seen as further
evidence of the sweeping policy change in Washington under the Bush
presidency. The last four years have seen a steady erosion of
Government support for international population projects, due to the
administration's opposition to abortion.
The U.N.'s commission on the status of women
had drafted a brief declaration reaffirming support for the Beijing
declaration, and calling for further effort to implement its
Organisers had hoped that informal discussions
last week would reach a consensus on the draft, leaving the next
fortnight clear for Government officials and women's activists to hold
more substantive talks on advancing economic equality and political
participation, and fighting violence against women.
But those hopes were crushed in a closed-door
session late last week when Washington demanded the declaration
reaffirm its support for the declarations made in Beijing 10 years ago
only if ``they do not include the right to abortion,'' says a copy of
the U.S. text obtained by the Guardian.
``We were not able to conclude informal
consultations as we had originally hoped and planned for,'' said
Beatrice Maille, the Vice-Chair of the U.N. commission.
The chief of the U.S. delegation, Sichan Siv,
told his counterparts that Washington opposed the ratification of the
international treaty on women's equality, as well as resolutions that
would ``place emphasis on `rights' that not all member states accept,
such as so-called `sexual rights'.''
Mr. Siv also told diplomats that Washington
opposed any move to seek funds from industrialised countries to
implement the reforms called for under the Beijing declaration.
The stand left America almost entirely
isolated at the pre-conference sessions. According to officials who
were at the meetings, only the Vatican observer supported Washington's
hard line. There was harsh criticism of the Bush administration
yesterday from diplomats and women's activists.
``This sort of statement is a clear signal to
everybody present that the U.S. does not support the Beijing agreement
perspective on the human rights of women,'' said Adrienne German,
president of the International Women's Health Coalition.
But Mr. Bush has steadily reversed
Washington's support for such initiatives, blocking U.S. funds to the
U.N. population fund, and diverting cash towards programmes promoting
A spokesman for the U.S. delegation described the controversy over Washington's stand on abortion as ``motivated''.