Facing overwhelming opposition, the United States on Friday abandoned attempts to amend a declaration reaffirming the blueprint to achieve equality for women, saying it was satisfied the document did not guarantee the right to abortion.
Hours after the United States backed down, the 45-member U.N. Commission on the Status of Women unanimously adopted the declaration endorsing the platform for action adopted at the 1995 U.N. women’s conference in Beijing.
The U.S. attempt to amend the declaration has taken the spotlight at the two-week review meeting, angering many governments and some 6,000 representatives of women’s and human rights organizations. They had hoped to focus on obstacles to women’s equality in the economy, the family, education and political life — not on the abortion issue.
U.S. Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey said the United States sought to amend the declaration because of concerns that advocacy groups were attempting to hijack the term “reproductive health services” in the Beijing document and define it in a way that guarantees the right to abortion.
No support for U.S. position
The proposed U.S. amendment would have reaffirmed the Beijing platform and a declaration adopted with it — but only “while reaffirming that they do not create any new international human rights, and that they do not include the right to abortion.”
But the United States, a member of the commission, found itself virtually alone. Nations from Africa, Europe, Latin America and Asia all opposed opening up the one-page document drafted by the Commission on the Status of Women.
On Thursday, Sauerbrey announced at a closed-door meeting that the United States was prepared to drop the last phrase of the amendment referring to “the right to abortion” but still wanted a reaffirmation that Beijing did not create any new human rights.
The reaction was again overwhelmingly negative.
Nilcea Freire, Brazil’s minister of state for women’s affairs, said not a single country supported the revised U.S. amendment, and every speaker insisted that the declaration be left untouched.
On Friday morning, Sauerbrey reiterated that the U.S. goal was to clear up what the United States believes has been misinterpretation of the Beijing platform, and to make sure that decisions about abortion are made at the national level.
Declaration says challenges remain for women
“We have heard from countries that our interpretation is their interpretation,” Sauerbrey told reporters. “So the amendment, we recognize, is really redundant, but it has accomplished its goals.”
The United States voted for the declaration, which reaffirmed the Beijing document, welcomed progress toward achieving gender equality, stressed that challenges remain, and “pledge to undertake further action to ensure their full and accelerated implementation.”
After its adoption, Sauerbrey said the United States understood “that there is international consensus that the terms ’reproductive health services’ and ’reproductive rights’ do not include abortion or constitute support, endorsement, or promotion of abortion.”
The Vatican representative said the Holy See would have preferred that the declaration state clearly that Beijing “did not create new human rights, including the right to abortion.”
Alexandra Arriaga, director of government relations at Amnesty International USA, welcomed the U.S. decision, saying, “it reaffirms that women’s rights are human rights.”
June Zeitlin, executive director of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, said she was pleased but not surprised that the United States dropped the amendment in the face of solid opposition.
“We’re very pleased that the declaration can be approved today, and that we can now move to focus on how to achieve implementation on what kind of concrete actions government can take — which is what we all came here to talk about,” she said.