UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Jeers and catcalls greeted the top U.S. delegate to
a global women's conference on Friday as she stressed Washington's opposition
to abortion and support for sexual abstinence and fidelity.
After withdrawing an unpopular anti-abortion amendment from a key U.N. document,
the United States joined in approving the declaration that reaffirmed a 150-page
platform agreed 10 years ago at a landmark U.N. women's conference in Beijing.
The final approval prompted cheers, applause and a standing ovation by some
However, top U.S. delegate Ellen Sauerbrey drew boos from the audience, which
included some of the 6,000 activists who came from around the world, when she
commented on Washington's interpretation of the document.
"We have stated clearly and on many occasions ... that we do not recognize
abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive
health assistance," Sauerbrey said.
The loudest catcalls, unusual at the world body, came when she articulated
U.S. policy on AIDS prevention for adolescents: "We emphasize the value
of the ABC -- abstinence, be faithful, and correct and consistent condom use
where appropriate -- approach in comprehensive strategies to combat the spread
of HIV/AIDS and the promotion of abstinence as the healthiest and most responsible
choice for adolescents."
Earlier Friday, Sauerbrey said the United States was dropping its demand that
the document be amended to say that abortion is a matter of national sovereignty
and not a human right delineated by the 1995 conference in Beijing.
After a week of closed-door negotiations at the United Nations during a two-week
conference on women's equality, Sauerbrey said the U.S. point had been made
and therefore Washington's amendment was no longer needed.
U.S. GOALS ACCOMPLISHED
The first version of the abandoned amendment said the Beijing meeting's final
document did not recognize abortion as a fundamental right; a later version
said the document did not create any new international human rights, code for
"We think we have really accomplished what we set out to do," Sauerbrey
said. "We have heard from countries ... that our interpretation is their
interpretation. So the amendment we recognize is really redundant, but it has
accomplished its goals. We will be withdrawing the amendment."
Despite U.S. lobbying, support for Washington's abortion stance was limited
to the Vatican, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama.
Mary Ann Dantuono, the Vatican delegate, was interrupted by shouts when she
said the Catholic Church "would have preferred a clearer statement emphasizing
that the Beijing documents cannot be interpreted as creating new human rights
including the right to abortion."
Delegates from the European Union, Asia and Africa forcefully opposed the U.S.
"The text of Beijing is unequivocally clear. We should not spend hours
splitting hairs over phrases that mean the same thing," said New Zealand's
U.N. Ambassador Don Mackay, speaking for his country, Canada and Australia.
He said the Beijing document included a woman's right to control her sexuality.
Nigeria echoed Mackay's sentiments on women's sexuality, but thanked Washington
for withdrawing its amendment.
The current U.N. session is meant to assess how far women have come toward
equality since the 1995 Beijing conference and a follow-up meeting five years
ago. Organizers seeking consensus drafted a streamlined document they hoped
would be easily approved without controversy.