Beijing + 10: The Bush Team's Abortion Misstep
Published: March 5, 2005
At a moment when the United States should be leading the world on
advancing women's equality, the Bush administration chose instead to
alienate government ministers and 6,000 other delegates at an important
United Nations conference on that issue with a burst of anti-abortion
zealotry this week.
The two-week session is being held to reinvigorate efforts to improve
women's lives a decade after a landmark U.N. conference in Beijing. The
organizers had hoped to keep a tight focus on urgent challenges like
sexual trafficking, educational inequities and the spread of AIDS.
The first order of business was to be quick approval of a simple
statement reaffirming the Beijing meeting's closing declaration. But on
Monday, the Americans created turmoil by announcing that the United
States would not join the otherwise universal consensus unless the
document was amended to say that it did not create "any new
international human rights" or "include the right to abortion."
This was shabby and mischievous. For one thing, the Beijing statement
was nonbinding. For another, the Beijing negotiators had tried to
anticipate controversy by recognizing unsafe abortions as a serious
public health issue while leaving the question of legality up to each
Specifically, the Beijing platform says that abortion should be safe
where it is legal, and that criminal action should not be taken against
any woman who has an abortion. All of this seemed clear enough, but the
Bush team apparently could not resist an opportunity to press its
By Thursday evening, the American delegation had agreed to drop the
explicit anti-abortion clause from its proposed amendment, and
yesterday it finally withdrew the amendment entirely. But the damage
had been done. An apology is due from the United States delegation for
the weeklong disruption it caused. So is a fresh spirit of cooperation
and a less rigid insistence on dictating global strategy.