Tue Mar 1, 2005
By Evelyn Leopold
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - European countries are opposing a move by the United States to push a U.N. conference into stating that women do not have the right to abortion, French and British officials said on Tuesday.
Ten years after a women's conference in Beijing, thousands of delegates have convened at the United Nations to review the platform of a 1995 landmark U.N. conference and invigorate efforts to improve women's lives during a two-week session.
But the Bush administration's proposal that a final draft document from the conference be amended on abortion rights has plunged the session into controversy.
Nicole Ameline, France's minister for parity and equality, said European Union members came to the conference supporting a declaration drawn by the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women and that it "should be accepted as it is, and by a consensus."
Ameline told a news conference that while the 1995 Beijing platform did not advocate abortion, changing the 2005 declaration -- which simply reaffirms a commitment to policies agreed by world leaders in Beijing -- would send the wrong signal.
"It is a question of perception," she said. "It is very important not to give the impression to the world that there is a step back or a reinterpretation of this issue."
Amelie said women in developing countries, struggling for education, jobs and health care used the Beijing document in negotiations with governments and feared any backtracking.
EU delegates said conference organizers were negotiating with the United States in hopes the Bush administration, which bars federal funding for organizations that perform abortions abroad, will issue a separate statement rather than touch the main closing document.
Britain's U.N. ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, told the meeting of ministers and officials from 135 nations that the EU would be working "for an unequivocal reaffirmation of Beijing without reservation."
Luxembourg, which holds the EU presidency, made a similar but less direct statement.
The U.N. Commission on the Status of Women had hoped to focus on issues like preventing AIDS and halting trafficking.
It drafted a short final statement reaffirming the Beijing action platform and pledges to implement it.
In Beijing, abortion was treated as a health issue, with the 150-page platform saying it should be safe where it was legal and criminal action should not be taken against women who had abortions.
U.S. envoy Ellen Sauerbrey told reporters on Monday, "There is no fundamental right to abortion" and blamed nongovernmental organizations for "trying to hijack" the issue and make abortion a right.
In response to the U.S. position, some 160 health, parliamentary, human rights and women's advocacy groups from around the world issued a statement, asking governments to "oppose unequivocally the amendment."
"Let's affirm the platform fully and move forward," the statement said.