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BY EDUARDO LLULLRegister Correspondent
NEW YORK — The United States
fought yet another lonely battle at the United Nations recently. But this time
abortion — not Iraq — was the sticking point, and the U.S. found an ally in the
The United Nations convened the
two-week session of the Commission on the Status of Women, or Beijing+10, from
Feb. 28-March 11, to reach consensus on a one-page declaration pledging and
reaffirming the Plan of Action agreed to at the 1995 Beijing Conference on
The Holy See backed the United
States’ effort to prevent pro-abortion lobbying groups from spinning the
language in the Beijing document — specifically its reference to “reproductive
rights” — to include new rights such as abortion.
That language “has been of
concern to the United States because it has been misinterpreted by many as
giving some sort of a new universal global right to abortion,” Ambassador Ellen
Sauerbrey, U.S. Representative to the Commission on the Status of Women,
explained at the conference.
The debate brought activists on
both sides of the issue from across the globe to lobby delegates. Pro-life and
pro-family groups sought to help delegates understand the stakes involved,
which, they claim, include a possible challenge to national sovereignty.
“As we’ve seen in the United
States, activist judges can cite international conventions to change the law of
their own country,” said Peter Smith, secretary for the Society for the
Protection of Unborn Children. “And then everything those countries have stood
for for hundreds of years can be swept away.”
Just as the U.N. meeting was
getting under way, the U.S. Supreme Court March 1 declared unconstitutional the
capital punishment of those who committed capital crimes when they were
juveniles. Justice Anthony Kennedy cited a U.N. convention in his majority
Smith joined forces during the
two-week session with other pro-life and pro-family groups, including the
Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute; Red
Familia; the Movement for the Advancement of Rights, Virtue, Education and
Leadership; and students from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, to
encourage delegates to support the U.S. delegation’s efforts.
Lea Sevcik, legal counsel for the
Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, said that there were approximately
160 volunteers affiliated with her group alone.
Only the Holy See
Jeanne Head, U.N. representative
for the National Right to Life Committee, gave the volunteers credit for making
their voices heard amid a loud pro-abortion lobbying effort.
“We have had very competent and
professional volunteers here on their own time to support the U.S. in
protecting nations from the Western world’s failed social policies,” she said.
The United States controlled the
debate on the declaration throughout the first week of the conference.
Representatives proposed an amendment to the document, clarifying that the
Beijing Conference did not create any new international human rights and did
not include the right to abortion.
In response, a coalition of
pro-abortion groups issued a joint statement calling the amendment a step
backward and an effort to undermine the Beijing Platform for Action.
Only the Holy See publicly
supported the amendment, which the United States eventually dropped. The lack
of support frustrated pro-life groups.
Two who commented were the
co-founders of the Movement for the Advancement of Rights, Virtue, Education
and Leadership, Jennifer Kimball and Elizabeth Gadd.
“There were pro-life countries
that wanted to support the U.S., but they either didn’t understand the need for
the amendment or were afraid to stand with the U.S. against the likes of the
European Union,” said Kimball.
“We tried to get them to
understand that their voice is important,” said Gadd. She said that some of the
African French-speaking countries, with whom she worked during the session,
feared they could lose aid if they sided with the United States.
After the U.S. dropped the
amendment, the declaration was adopted by consensus. U.S. representatives went
along but made it clear that no new rights had been recognized. Costa Rica and
Nicaragua, though silent during the debate over the U.S.-proposed amendment,
expressed similar reservations.
No New Rights
Sauerbrey told delegates that the
original Beijing document did not create legally binding obligations on states
under international law.
“Based on consultations this week
with states, we further understand that states do not understand the Beijing or
Beijing+5 outcome documents to constitute support, endorsement or promotion of
abortion,” she added.
In the end, both sides of the
debate claimed victory.
Adrienne Germain, president of
the International Women’s Health Coalition, said in a prepared statement, “We
are thrilled that the world’s governments, together with NGOs, have persuaded
the U.S. to join consensus on women’s human rights. As we now move into
negotiations on specific issues, such as trafficking and economic advancement
for women, we hope the U.S. will continue in a spirit of consensus building.”
But pro-life activists took a
“In one way it was a defeat
because no one supported the U.S. amendment,” said Sevcik. “But in another way
it was a win because no one could state that Beijing made abortion an
“The U.S. succeeded in getting
the rest of the world to verify that Beijing did not create new rights or the
right to abortion. No country spoke up and said it did,” stated Head, who had
been at the original Beijing conference. “Pro-choice groups failed to advance
their agenda then and, because of the U.S., they failed now as well.”
Eduardo Llull writes
from New York.