National Catholic Register


White House Scores Pro-Life Win at U.N.

BY Joshua Mercer

May 19-25, 2002 Issue | Posted 5/19/02 at 1:00 PM


UNITED NATIONS—Family activists cheered as the United States delegation won major pro-life and pro-family victories at the May 8-10 U.N. Special Session for Children.

“The U.S. delegation did a wonderful job. It's almost miraculous, really,” said Jeanne Head, director of Manhattan Right to Life.“It was a win for the pro-life, pro-family movement.”

The intensive two-day negotiations finished just before a midnight deadline May 10. More than 180 countries attending the General Assembly special session approved the document called“A World Fit For Children” by consensus and a round of applause.

The United States convinced the other delegations to remove references to“services” from language about “reproductive health.” The United States successfully demanded that the word “services” be removed, citing an admission last June during Child Summit preparatory negotiations by a Canadian delegate that “services” included abortion.

Head credited other pro-life delegations for supporting the United States, but she stressed that the Americans led the charge.

“The U.S. delegation, the Holy See, and some developing countries including Muslim countries, kept language that could be construed to include abortion out of the document,” she said.

The United States also demanded that references to sexual and reproductive health include language respecting the laws, religion and custom of the home country.

“They took the floor to defend religious values and to defend family and to try to put marriage into the document,” John Klink said of his colleagues on the U.S. delegation. The Bush administration asked Klink, who has served previously on Holy See delegations at numerous U.N. negotiations, to join the American delegation for the Child Summit talks.

The reference to “reproductive health services” was finally removed only after the United States had threatened a floor vote stating that “services” could not mean abortion.

“These countries playing the‘fence game’ would have to decide one way or the other. It [the U.S. tactic] was brilliant,” Klink said.

Rather than face tough questions back home for supporting pro-abortion language, he added, Latin American countries dropped their support for “services.”

Klink predicted that those Latin American countries could soon become more enthusiastic supporters of Bush's pro-family, pro-life international outlook.

“The Bush administration made it clear, in all the [Latin American] capitals, its policy. It had a major impact,” said Klink. “It seems absurd that Catholic countries hold positions that are diametrically opposed to their people. I think there will be an adjustment in position over the next few years.”

Other pro-family and pro-life language promoted by the United States was defeated, however. The United States tried unsuccessfully to include abstinence to language on sexual education and it also failed in a bid to have marriage defined as only a union of a man and a woman, but the U.S. delegation remained unwavering in its pro-life and pro-family commitment throughout the week.

Not everyone was pleased with the sea change in United States foreign policy. During the Clinton Administration, the United States frequently led the international community in pushing for pro-abortion and anti-family language in U.N. documents.

The Child Rights Caucus, a collection of left-leaning non-governmental organizations involved in the Child Summit, called the agreement “weak” because it didn't stipulate “the rights of adolescents to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education, information and services.”

The pro-abortion Canadian delegation also complained about the final wording on sexual and reproductive health, saying that “this is a critical issue for children and adolescents and falls significantly short of what we wanted.”

But Bill Saunders, who serves on the United States delegation, said that his colleagues were right to focus on strong families and not making abortion legal for young children.

“I think it was a huge win for us,” Saunders said. “It's the first time in over eight years that there's a significant win for the pro-life, pro-family cause.” Saunders noted that the United States also added a strong addendum to the Child Summit document, known as an interpretive statement that clarifies to other countries what America defines certain terms to mean.

“The U.S. statement made it clear that [reproductive health] doesn't cover abortion or that‘various forms of the family’ does not mean homosexual unions,” said Saunders. “We can always refer to these reservations in future negotiations.”

Saunders said that the Bush administration's attempt to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman won significant international support, which can be built up further in future U.N. negotiations.

“Now is the time for the United States and its allies to begin an aggressive family agenda to make clear that marriage always is between a man and a woman, and [to ensure] that terms are always defined so that abortion cannot be smuggled in an ambiguous ways,” said Saunders.

He noted that key U.N. documents support America's position.

“We have to have direct references to marriage and the family as the building block of society,” said Saunders. “And that's right out of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. This isn't a new thing.”

Joshua Mercer writes from

Washington, D.C.