"Reproductive Health" and a U.S.-European Rift
Funding Points Up a Deep Split over U.N. Programs
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BANGKOK, Thailand, DEC. 21, 2002
HREF="http://www.zenit.org">(Zenit.org).- A split over abortion, at
least at the policy level, is widening between the United States and Europe.
The 5th Asian and Pacific Population Conference in particular saw a
disagreement between the United States and the U.N. Population Fund. The
Dec. 11-17 conference, the latest for this regional body after its last
meeting in Bali in 1992, examined a number of themes related to population,
reproductive health and AIDS.
The source of dissension lay in the terms "reproductive health services"
and "reproductive rights," which the United States said could be
interpreted as support for abortion, the New York Times reported Dec. 15.
The United States also wanted the conference document to include more
support for abstinence programs in the fight against AIDS, instead of
reliance on condoms.
The Times quoted a U.S. official saying: "Our goals are to focus on
poverty, health and education, respect for women and the family as the
fundamental unit of society. [...] We seek an outcome that does not support
or promote abortion."
Press reports focused on the widespread opposition to the U.S. stance among
the meeting participants. However, Eugene Dewey, U.S. assistant secretary
for population, refugees and migration, told a news conference that
American efforts to amend the pact's language had been hit by a "horrendous
disinformation campaign," Reuters reported Dec. 16.
In fact, the U.S. position had been clearly outlined by State Department
spokesman Richard Boucher in a Nov. 7 declaration. "The United States
remains committed to providing assistance to help achieve the three
principal goals adopted in the 1994 International Conference on Population
and Development concerning reproductive health, maternal mortality and
education," Boucher noted. "Our support for the International Conference on
Population and Development's goals, however, in no way implies U.S.
promotion of abortion."
In the end, the United States failed to have the conference document
modified. It lost the votes by 31-1 and 32-1, the Associated Press reported
The United States ended up agreeing on the plan being adopted without
change, said Thoraya Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund
(UNFPA). U.S. concerns were attached in a separate document.
Defining "reproductive health"
Even though U.N. officials denied that "reproductive health" includes
support for abortion, controversy has surrounded the concept since it
entered the U.N. vocabulary at the 1994 Cairo conference. A number of
countries spelled out their worries in a list that forms part of the
conference's final document.
For example, the representative of El Salvador stated that his nation was
not prepared to agree that abortion be included in the services covered by
the term "reproductive health." Similar reservations were recorded by
Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Argentina, Malta and the Holy See.
In recent years, under the Bush administration, the United States has also
made clear its opposition to such terminology. In a meeting of the U.N.
Commission on Population and Development early this year the U.S.
representative noted his opposition to use of the term "reproductive health
"It could be interpreted to include promoting the legalization or expansion
of legal abortion services," the aide said, according to a U.N. press
release Jan. 4.
The official also noted the U.N. report submitted for last January's
meeting failed to mention the progress of governments in helping women
avoid abortion, even though that point was in the plan of action adopted in
The battle resumed last May, during the U.N. conference on children. The
United States declared its opposition to the phrase "reproductive health
services," saying it encompassed the provision of abortion, the Washington
Post reported May 9. As well, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy
Thompson, who headed the U.S. delegation, declared that he wanted to see
more language "encouraging the delay of sexual activity, and supporting
abstinence education programs."
More for Planned Parenthood
While the Bush administration recently blocked the payment of $34 million
in dues to the UNFPA approved by Congress, European countries are
augmenting their support for the United Nations.
UNFPA's annual report for 2001 makes clear that Europe already is the key
financial supporter of U.N. population programs. Out of a total income of
$377.8 million last year, the Netherlands gave $74.9 million, the United
Kingdom $66.9 million, Norway $28.6 million, Denmark $24.2 million, Sweden
$17.2 million, Germany $13.4 million and Finland $11.5 million. Japan
kicked in $49.8 million.
Then, an International Planned Parenthood Foundation news release of Sept.
11 noted that the European Commissioner for Development, Poul Nielson,
signed an agreement with IPPF and UNFPA allocating 10 million euros ($10.2
million) to the former and 20 million euros to the latter, with an
additional 2 million euros for monitoring and evaluation.
A Sept. 6 press release by UNFPA noted that the Swedish government decided
to grant a further 20 million Swedish kronor ($2.2 million) to UNFPA,
raising its contribution for 2002 to $20.9 million. Jan Karlsson, Swedish
Minister for Development Cooperation, Migration and Asylum Policy, noted
that the increase was in reaction to the U.S. decision to block its funding
Canada joined in, increasing its funding, the Canadian International
Development Agency announced Sept. 23. Susan Whelan, Minister for
International Cooperation, declared that Canada will contribute another
$2.5 million (US) to UNFPA, in addition to the almost $6.4 million already
provided this year.
Britain is also planning new funding, according to a briefing Dec. 6 by the
U.S.-based Population Research Institute. The Department of International
Development, the British aid agency, recently offered Peruvian groups a $24
million grant that would bypass their government's Ministry of Health.
The funds would go to a private conglomerate that includes non-governmental
organizations that collaborated with then President Alberto Fujimori, who
launched sterilization campaigns in Peru throughout the 1990s.
And according to Euro-fam, the European Union is now considering a further
big increase in its support for population control. A new EU aid program
would replace the regulation which originated after the 1994 U.N.
conference in Cairo.
On Oct. 24, the European Parliament adopted an amendment to the 2003
budget, tripling its funding for population-control aid, to 24 million
euros. And while the previous regulation governing the aid emphasized the
needs of development, the new proposed regulation puts the stress on
"sexual health rights," "reproductive rights" and "access to sexual and
reproductive health services."
These expressions, notes Euro-fam, are interpreted by the World Health
Organization as including the right to abortion.
The European Commission proposal for a new regulation states: "It is to
reinforce the Cairo Plan of Action by giving all couples and individuals
the basic right and opportunity to fully protect their reproductive and
sexual health, in particular against unsafe abortion and other existing
harmful practices. It is to provide universal equal access to care,
services and products."
Euro-fam on Dec. 19 reported that after further debate the European
Parliament rejected the proposed 200% increase for family-planning funding.
But it did settle for a 50% boost, raising its allotment to 14 million
euros. The U.S.-European rift on population control could grow wider.