updated 10/13/2004 10:41:51 PM ET 2004-10-14T02:41:51

The United States has refused to join 85 other heads of state and government in signing a statement that endorsed a 10-year-old U.N. plan to ensure every woman’s right to education, health care, and choice about having children.

President Bush’s administration withheld its signature because the statement included a reference to “sexual rights.”

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kelly Ryan wrote to organizers of the statement that that the United States was committed to the plan of action adopted at a 1994 U.N. conference in Cairo and “to the empowerment of women and the need to promote women’s fullest enjoyment of universal human rights.”

“The United States is unable, however, to endorse the world leaders’ statement,” Ryan said, because it “includes the concept of ‘sexual rights,’ a term that has no agreed definition in the international community.”

‘Sexual rights’
Ryan did not elaborate on the Bush administration’s objections to the phrase “sexual rights,” but at past U.N. meetings U.S. representatives have spoken out against abortion, gay rights and what they see as the promotion of promiscuity by giving condoms to young people to prevent AIDS.

The statement of new global support for the Cairo plan was given Wednesday to Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette by media mogul Ted Turner, who has lent significant financial support to the world body through his United Nations Foundation.

The 1994 Cairo program, signed by 179 countries, including the United States, says women have the “right to make decisions concerning reproduction, free of discrimination, coercion and violence as expressed in human rights documents.”

The support statement notes that in 1994 “the world’s governments and civil society committed to an action plan to ensure universal access to reproductive health information and services, uphold fundamental human rights including sexual and reproductive rights, alleviate poverty, secure gender equality, and protect the environment.”

Statement focus: AIDS, income gap
While progress has been made, the statement says the world is facing an exponential increase in HIV/AIDS, a growing gap between rich and poor, persistently high death rates related to pregnancy and childbirth, and inadequate access to family planning services.

The Cairo support statement was signed by more than 250 global leaders in all fields including leaders of 85 nations, 22 former world leaders, notably Presidents Carter and Clinton, and 24 Nobel prize winners. The government leaders included the entire European Union, China, Japan, Indonesia, Pakistan and more than a dozen African countries.

The Bush administration responded only on Tuesday to organizers who had asked for the president’s support.

While the Bush administration refused to sign the follow-up statement, the United States under Clinton did endorse the platform adopted a year after Cairo at the U.N. conference in Beijing that specifically mentioned sexual rights.

The United States took a leading role in drafting the Beijing document, which states: “The human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

Bush has blocked $34 million in congressionally approved annual assistance to the United Nations Population Fund, alleging the U.N. agency helped China manage programs that involved forced abortions. China calls the charge baseless.

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