NEW YORK — It's a whole new world at the United Nations.
Though a June 15 meeting ended without solving a dispute over abortion, U.N. lobbyists say there has been a sea change now that Bush is in the White House. He has turned the United States delegation into a staunchly pro-life and pro-family force.
The meeting was the final Preparatory Committee meeting for the U.N. Child Summit. In a week of negotiations, the committee was trying to set the wording of the document that is expected to be approved by the world's leaders at a Special Session of the U.N. General Assembly on Children in September.
“The United States aggressively called for abstinence language in the document,” said Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute.
“But the United States was most valiant when they asked the question about what ‘reproductive health care’ meant,’” added Ruse, referring to a debate that erupted over a term in the Child Summit document referring to provision of “reproductive health care services” “to “adolescents.”
The United Nations defines “adolescence” as beginning at age 10, and pro-life activists at the United Nations had warned that the term “reproductive health care services” in the Child Summit document was really code language to mandate provision of abortions, without parental oversight, to girls as young as 10.
Much to the surprise of everybody, a Canadian delegation admitted that was indeed the true meaning behind the phrase, when questioned by a U.S. delegate during negotiations June 12.
“But of course it includes, and I hate to say the word, but it includes the word abortion,” the Canadian delegate explained.
“I am shocked,” a representative for the Holy See delegation replied. He immediately called on revisiting all language that referred to “services” in the Child Summit document.
The ensuing debate over the contentious language caused a standstill, forcing the Preparatory Committee meeting to be adjourned June 15 without a final agreement on the document's wording.
Peter Smith, U.N. lobbyist for the International Right to Life and for Britain's Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, said he was worried that pro-abortion European countries had intentionally delayed negotiations over the issue to an additional “intersessional” meeting, to which many poorer nations wouldn't be able to send delegates.
“One delegate told me, ‘I'm supposed to be at four meetings at once,’” Smith told the Register. “These small countries have very small delegations. We see it as a tactic by larger industrial countries, by their continual belligerence, to postpone negotiations to their advantage.”
Ruse maintains that such tactics will not prevail at the intersessional meeting, which is planned for sometime in July or August.
“I think ‘services’ will be removed,” Ruse predicted. He added, however, that an attempt by pro-life delegates to have “reproductive health care” defined as not including abortion will also likely fail.
The final document has to be approved by consensus, so pro-lifers have warned abortion supporters that any pro-abortion “code” language will have to be removed if the document is to be passed.
Even though the contentious paragraph had not been resolved by the end of the conference, a Latin American delegate said he was pleased that clarity was brought to the discussions by the Canadian delegate's startling admission.
“Now we know what they are talking about,” the delegate said. “It clarified the words. Reproductive health services means abortion.”
He added, “If ‘services’ means ‘abortion,’ then of course it's going to be rejected.”
A delegate from the European Union expressed regret that the Canadian delegate had been so forthcoming, calling his explanation “a little bit clumsy.”
“To make something so clear is not so necessary,” the delegate said. “Sometimes you have to use a high-level abstraction.”
U.S. Backs Abstinence
Debate over abortion caused the most vocal dispute, but other fights erupted throughout the June11-15 Child Summit negotiations.
The United States delegation introduced pro-family language into a paragraph dealing with health behavior among children and adolescents. The U.S. language called for the promotion “especially of sexual abstinence to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.”
However, a number of delegations were visibly unhappy over the mention of sexual abstinence, and representatives of the European Union and some Latin American countries like Chile won approval for postponing discussion on the topic. It will also be debated at the intersessional meeting.
Michael Ochieng of Kenya, director of operations for the African Youth Alliance, a pro-family nongovernmental organization, praised the U.S. position.
“This is what children want — education about abstinence at an early age. That's a healthy lifestyle,” he said.
Other fireworks ensued when the United States recommended during negotiations June 14 that education systems involve the “due respect of the rights, duties and responsibilities of parents.”
The introduction of the reference to “parents” caused expressions of amazement and disgust among some anti-family NGO representatives observing from the gallery.
Undaunted, the United States added further abstinence language to the document.
But it was Kazakhstan that dropped the biggest bombshell a short time later.
“I have one proposal,” said the Kazakhstan delegate. “Instead of ‘sexual education’ have ‘moral sexual education.’”
Immediately, sighs, scoffs and grunts erupted from the gallery, catching the attention of delegates from the convention floor and causing them to look up at the cause of the commotion. Pro-family lobbyists, represented in nearly equal numbers, made little noise but were visibly happy at both proposed amendments.
Korea suggested additional pro-family text, calling for measures “to protect children from violent or harmful Web sites, computer programs and games that negatively influence the psychological development of children.”
The United States agreed with the Korean language and suggested that “due respect to the rights, duties and responsibilities of parents” be added to the measure. The Holy See recommended that “such as pornography” be added to language about Web sites.
Poland praised the proposals. “I think that the proposal of Korea is very important,” the Polish delegate said, but she added that she preferred the language added by the United States “because we have to respect the responsibility of parents.”
Another amendment from the United States encouraged pro-family activists. It added “participation in alternative good quality primary education programs,” or homeschooling, to the section of the Child Summit document dealing with promoting education.
Praise for Bush
A delegate from the Middle East praised the United States for its pro-family positions.
“The U.S. position has dramatically changed after the Bush administration arrived. It energized other governments,” the delegate said. “It surprised us. They have had a very constructive role this year.”
A delegate from the Holy See also approved of the United States’ pro-family and pro-life stance, but added that the word “chastity” would have been even better than “abstinence.” “The U.S. doesn't mind condoms as apart of abstinence education,” the Holy See delegate told the Register. “I'd rather talk about delaying sexual activity.”
Overall, pro-family advocates were happy with the successes made during the Child Summit conference and their future prospects at the inter-sessional meeting.
“I don't believe the pro-abortionists will win on the [pro-abortion] language,” Smith told the Register. “The United States delegation is pro-life and pro-family. So is Poland. So are some developing countries. So is the Holy See.”
Summed up Smith, “If they don't agree, it isn't consensus. It's not even close.”
Joshua Mercer writes from Washington, D.C.