US Attacked for Pro-life Stance at UN Conference in Bangkok

According to a US State Department official, the US delegation at last-week’s UN population conference in Bangkok was confronted by a "horrendous disinformation campaign" about its positions and motives. Eugene Dewey, US State Department Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration, said that "It disturbs me, the disinformation campaign which has been perpetrated by some participants of this conference."

Most of the administration’s critics have claimed that the US sought to undermine the worldwide consensus achieved at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) Director-General Steven Sinding stated that he was "deeply frustrated that a single country can hold up consensus in reaffirming a fundamental international commitment to women’s health."

However, Dewey asserted that such statements spread "the lie that the US is trying to pull back or to overturn the ICPD plan of action. This is absolutely false." Instead, in Bangkok, the US attempted to align itself with the many serious reservations placed in the original ICPD document by pro-life countries that feared that some language in the document could promote abortion. The US officially supports some aspects of ICPD, including its commitment to the idea that all family planning programs must be voluntary.

Many critics also argued that the US administration possesses an unfounded fear that phrases such as "reproductive health services" are euphemisms for abortion. UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Thorya Obaid bluntly stated that "The phrase ‘reproductive health services’ is not code for the promotion or support for ‘abortion services.’"

But, when the US attempted to include such a clarification in the Bangkok document, in order to resolve the issue, it was defeated. And, although Sinding asserted that ICPD "does not promote abortion," he also admitted that "It is heartening to learn that 17 countries in this region have reviewed their abortion laws" in order to provide "safe and legal abortions."

An observer present at the negotiations in Bangkok told the Friday Fax that the conference, officially called the Fifth Asian and Pacific Conference, appears to have been orchestrated by UNFPA, its chief nongovernmental partners, and members of other national delegations, in order to embarrass the Bush administration and to call into question its commitment to the well-being of women.

For instance, the pro-abortion group "Catholics" for a Free Choice (CFFC) placed advertisements in newspapers in Europe, Asia and the United States showing a woman and infant underneath a headline stating that "The Bush administration has picked its next target."

The US was not cowed by this criticism. It supported calls from some developing countries for natural family planning, and argued for abstinence training as one of the strategies to slow the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Dewey told the conference that "The United States supports the sanctity of life from conception to natural death," a statement that closely mirrors recent remarks made by President George W. Bush.

Source: Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, December 27, 2002, Volume 6, Number 1

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