Beijing + 10: The Bush Team's Abortion Misstep Print E-mail
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 nation.

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 anti-abortion agenda.

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.