Over the objections of the United States, delegates at the Fifth Asian and Pacific Population Conference passed a resolution reaffirming a landmark 1994 population policy drawn up at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo. The US contended that parts of the Cairo plan could be used to support abortion rights, focusing as it has in past international agreements on the phrases “reproductive health services” and “reproductive rights,” according to the Associated Press. The US delegation called for a vote on the plan yesterday, an almost unprecedented move at a United Nations (UN) conference, which normally make decision by consensus. The US was the only dissenter in votes to remove the phrases and insert a stronger focus on abstinence in the section of the plan dealing with adolescent sexual activity, according to Agence France Presse.
The US delegation, led by Assistant Secretary of State Gene Dewey, argued that reaffirming the Cairo plan would “violate [US] principles” and “constitute endorsement of abortion” in a speech at the conference on Monday, according to the Jakarta Post. Dewey further stated that “the United States supports the sanctity of life from conception to natural death,” according to the New York Times. The US was also rejected in its attempt to include a strong “general reservation” against abortion added to the final plan of action for the conference, the Times reports. However, the United States did join the consensus in the end, and it submitted a document outlining its concerns that will not affect the plan of action, AP reports.
The 22-page plan adopted at the conference recommends steps for implementing the Cairo plan, concentrating on fighting poverty by supporting family planning, gender equality, and HIV/AIDS programs, according to AP. However, the US objections impacted the conference, where delegates “were met with roadblock after roadblock erected by the US delegation in its singular determination to export a domestic political agenda to a region thousands of miles away,” argued Population Action International (PAI). This is only the latest in a series of Bush-led attacks on reproductive rights worldwide. His most publicized break with the international community on family planning was his withholding of $34 million appropriated by Congress for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) on the basis of inflammatory rhetoric by the far-right wing Population Research Institute alleging that the UNFPA supports coercive population control in China. Despite the fact that Bush’s own handpicked investigative team found no evidence to back PRI’s claim, Bush still would not release the funds to the UNFPA, which provides crucial family planning and health services to women in many developing countries.