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Voices Online Edition
VOICES - Vol. XX No. 1 - Eastertide 2005

Report from the UN
Assault on Women
Ten Years after Beijing

The Commission on the Status of Women convened its forty-ninth Special Session at the United Nations February 28-March 11 in New York City. Each such gathering is a renewed assault on women, despite gilt-edged rhetoric in praise of "health and reproductive rights", a code phrase for universal abortion on demand. Who knew that "safe motherhood" included abortion?

The assault weapons range from novel definitions of simple words to promises of favored nation status as an example of progressive policy to veiled threats of economic sanctions. In between, the terrain is studded with philosophical and legal land mines. The casualties? Women and families worldwide -- not even the United States can escape the explosion of "international standards" set by the UN.

The machinations of United Nations' conferences are tedious and communicated in mind-numbing technical jargon. Yet what happens in these meetings can determine domestic policy from Peoria to Perth. Textbooks are written for schools and colleges that use UN-approved language. Field manuals for aid workers in developing nations employ UN standards for social policy and medical assistance. Emerging nations rely on UN experts to write their constitutions and set up their domestic courts. Financial aid (IMF, World Bank) is often tied to compliance with the UN's interpretation of the documents that nations have agreed to at UN conferences. In short, all United Nations' conferences are collaborative and integrated. They have an over-arching goal to control the world's population -- though that goal is not expressly stated.

What is expressly stated appears in "rights-based language". Such language serves a dual purpose; it persuades nations to accept sexually liberal social policy in the name of "equal rights" (for women, for children, for migrants, for "sexual minorities") and to build the legal framework to impose those manufactured "rights" on the nations of the world. Each conference and its scheduled technical reviews represent incremental steps toward this goal. A new vision of human society is being gradually lowered onto all cultures. The very tediousness of the process is part of the strategy to conceal the growing legal edifice until it is too late to dismantle peacefully.

For this reason, Catholics -- and all who defend a vision of human dignity beyond what any state or international institution can confer -- are encouraged to monitor these developments and to inform others. What is urgently needed is support from people of good will for those who defend human dignity at the national and international level.

The Newest Assault on Women
Ten years after it held the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, the United Nations' Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) summoned nations to assess the implementation in public policy of the provisions of the Beijing document, the "Platform for Action" (Beijing PfA). This formal, scheduled review is known as Beijing +10. At Beijing in 1995, the PfA set goals for fair treatment of women in education, health care, and employment. Delegates to Beijing +10 were given the task to negotiate a document ("Outcome document") that formulates how further progress toward the original Beijing goals should proceed. This document is crucial because it sets the direction for public policy and legal claims.

Earlier, at the five-year review, Beijing +5 (2000), delegates wrangled over the meaning of key phrases in the original document produced by nations at Beijing. Europe, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the United States under the Clinton administration led the charge to promote legal abortion via the document's phrase "health and reproductive services" or "sexual health and reproductive rights". While English is the language used to negotiate the consensus document, many delegates speak and read English as a second or third language. Thus, for them a phrase such as "health and reproductive services" is understood to mean good maternal care and medical treatment for venereal diseases.

Few Muslim or African nations realized that abortion could be counted as a "reproductive service" until pro-family NGOs and the delegates of the Holy See made the hidden meaning plain during negotiations at Beijing +5. (See Abortion advocates departed New York after Beijing +5 determined to prepare for the next round.

The abortion industry and its supportive NGOs recognize that if abortion on demand can be established as an international "right", then a nation's courts will be forced to amend its national laws to reflect that new international standard. Just as the US Supreme Court cited European law as part of its justification of sodomy in Lawrence vs. Texas, in like manner nations will be pressured to adopt abortion as an international legal "right".

Universal abortion is also the linchpin in the social engineering plan of "globalists" who seek world peace via reduced populations and reduced consumption of the world's resources. Abortion is made palatable to the developing nations because it is promoted as the prime liberator of women -- "biology is not my destiny". If women are to be "free" to enter the marketplace and "empowered" in their communities, then some means of "relief from pregnancy" must be made widely available.

As expected, a push for a "right" to abortion ignited diplomatic fireworks during Beijing +10. Several NGOs urged country delegates to "correct the omissions" in their national policy and tackle "gender issues" that were not specifically outlined in the original Beijing documents of 1995. International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) for example, attempted to use the Beijing +10 Conference as a "source of mobilization around these issues". According to IPPF's pre-conference preparation, "Opinions are divided between those who want to add a specific goal of universal access to sexual and reproductive rights, and those who want these rights more explicitly identified within the relevant goals and targets already defined".

The current (+10) review process was intended by UN staff to "assess progress and consider new initiatives, as appropriate". Pro-family governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are alert to terms such as "new initiatives" and thus stood ready to battle the hordes of anti-family lobbyists (Planned Parenthood and their clones) who jammed the corridors of the United Nations headquarters in New York.

To parry these "new initiatives", the United States, led by Bush appointee Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey, offered an amendment to the PfA that expressly clarified that no "right" to abortion was intended in the original document crafted at Beijing. On March 2 the ambassador addressed the Commission with the following statement:

As colleagues in this meeting know, the United States has had concerns about efforts to mischaracterize the outcome documents of Beijing and Beijing +5 in creation of new international rights. It is clear that there was no intent on the part of States supporting the Beijing documents to create new rights. While those documents express important political goals, they do not create rights or legally binding obligations on States under international law, including the right to abortion.

Strong words. The US statement put nations and NGOs on notice that it would oppose an attempt to use the Beijing +10 review to institute new "rights" with binding force.

According to Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, an accredited NGO at the United Nations, the Bush administration "initiated the proposal as a result of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UN committees using the Beijing document to pressure developing countries to liberalize their laws on abortion".

Following the US statement and the accompanying amendment, abortion and "gender issues" NGOs immediately moved to capitalize on the anti-US sentiment uncomfortably visible at the United Nations since the war on terror began. A feminist NGO, Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), for example, issued this press release:

The following statement was issued today to urge the United States to withdraw its amendment at the Beijing +10 review underway at the United Nations: The continued US refusal to join the global consensus affirming the Platform for Action is a betrayal of women worldwide. We are outraged that the united voices of women from every corner of the planet are not enough to persuade the US delegation to abandon its isolationist stance as governments review 10 years of progress and challenges since the UN Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing.

Numerous abortion-rights groups and feminist lobbies joined WEDO, including Center for Reproductive Rights (USA), United Methodist Women, CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality (Netherlands), Amnesty International USA, Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir América Latina (Latin American office of the US-based Catholics for a Free Choice), International Gender Trade Network, and Girls Power Initiative (Nigeria). Their statement charged that,

The United States tried with its amendment to inject their domestic agenda into an international agreement -- playing politics with women's lives. It distracted government and world attention from the urgent need to reinvigorate the implementation of the Beijing consensus that is lagging in too many countries. Other governments came here in unity to discuss that challenge and to agree on concrete steps to take.

Some insisted that because the United States will not sign the UN's Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that the United States is hypocritical in its claim to work for women's equality. (The CEDAW treaty is also unsigned by the Holy See. For more information on CEDAW, visit The CEDAW treaty is presented as insuring sexual equality, yet it has been used to force countries to abolish "stereotypes" of stay-at-home mothers -- even going as far as prohibiting the institution of Mother's Day celebrations.

NGOs opposed to any reference to the traditional family as normative quickly cast the US as "against the international community" in matters of international law. This charge conjures images of the US as a rogue nation going its own way despite "international consensus". The tactic is effective. After Ambassador Sauerbrey's remarks, those nations not in concert with US foreign policy were tempted to "punish" the US by voting against any US resolution at Beijing +10 regardless of its merit for women and families.

Abortion advocates consistently presented their message as one of hope for the women of the world. They argued that unsafe abortion was the most urgent health care problem for women world-wide and the United States had hardened its heart toward women, particularly women in the developing nations. That argument was drummed into delegates by groups like Ipas (originally an acronym for International Project Assistance Service), an international organization that vigorously pushes abortion on third world women. The Ipas website offers brochures on abortion techniques -- "Steps for performing manual vacuum aspiration (MVA): Using the Ipas MVA Plus® and EasyGrip® cannulae". Ipas spokesman Karen Arthur wrote:

No woman should have to risk her health or life because she lacks safe reproductive-health choices.
This debate has been brought to the forefront lately by the United States' attempt to amend the platform of action agreed in Beijing. Ipas works globally to increase women's ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive right AND to reduce abortion-related deaths and injuries.

Richard Grenell, media representative for the US mission to the United Nations, responded to the negative assessment of the US amendment, "These amendments are consistent with US government views... We believe wholeheartedly that the Beijing document does not establish or guarantee a right for an abortion. What we have been advocating is not new".

Opposing groups criticized Grenell and the US mission for this statement, noting that the US has not "consistently" held that view -- that indeed, under the Clinton administration, the US promoted a "broad approach" to women's health issues.

Pro-family NGOs as well as delegates from nations anxious to defend the traditional family labored to build support for the US amendment in caucuses and informal consultations for several days. A pro-life Asian delegate, in an attempt to demonstrate the US concern for third world women, circulated the US State Department report on the Chinese policy of forced abortion. The report, issued on February 28, noted that "numerous and serious human rights abuse" incidents occurred in China during 2004. "Violence against women, including imposition of a coercive birth limitation policy that resulted in instances of forced abortion and forced sterilization, continued to be a problem", the State Department release said. Yet, the plight of Chinese women was ignored by "women's rights" NGOs and the delegates of most of the European nations.

The Holy See formally supported the US amendment. Mary Ann Glendon, professor of law at Harvard University, led the Vatican's delegation. Glendon is also the first woman president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. She had trenchant observations of the results of the Beijing PfA since 1995, noting that some "interest groups that purport to speak for women often do not have women's interests at heart". Professor Glendon pointed to poverty -- still borne disproportionately by women -- and noted that "there is a strong correlation between family breakdown and the feminization of poverty".

A number of Islamic nations, South American countries and a few European nations also backed the US amendment intended to clarify the ambiguous language in the Beijing PfA.

The slugfest escalated. At stake were the provisions in the "outcome document" of the Beijing +10 review. That document will be presented to the sixtieth session of the General Assembly for the "high level" Millennium review in September 2005. In September, heads of state will converge in New York to review the progress nations have made according to the commitments agreed to in the Millennium Declaration of the year 2000. The September review will include the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). These goals are presented as a "road map" for the immediate and long-range achievement of a more peaceful world -- a world in which "development" of nations and people bring global stability.

Here the clash of worldviews comes into clearer focus: population control advocates and abortion rights proponents envision a world where abortion enforced as a universal human right is the key to "equality" and "development". The targets of the MDGs have been carefully devised by United Nations' conferences throughout the 1990s, beginning with the Rio conference, known as the Earth Summit, in 1992. Now, fifteen years of work can come to fruition if only nations will follow the map.

Thus, abortion groups rallied fierce opposition to the United States' definitive statement that abortion is not a "right" and abortion is not a commitment that nations agreed to in Beijing or any other international conference. (What nations did agree to were measures to address women's needs in crucial areas: education, health, poverty, violence, armed conflict, employment, decision-making, human rights of women and the girl child. Sadly, most of these measures are subsumed into the tug-of-war over abortion.)

But abortion activists knew that as long as the language of the Beijing +10 document remained ambiguous, abortion could be read into it by those who wished to "interpret" its provisions in regional applications (such as Malaysia).

Eventually the ambiguous language combined with local and regional practice constitutes "international standards" that form "soft law" and can be cited by judges to set new legal precedents. The struggle to maintain the murky language of the Beijing +10 document was paramount for abortion activists.

NGOs in support of abortion accused the US of an attempt to derail the review process. Abortion supporters launched an e-mail campaign to draw signatures from women's groups worldwide in an attempt to convince nations that the women of the world demanded "empowerment" via abortion as a "human right". Within hours they had gathered the signatures of more than 300 groups worldwide. But the pro-family NGOs quickly exceeded that number, amassing nearly 800 signatures (including WFF director) in support of the US amendment that supported an affirmation of Beijing, but clarified that Beijing did not create a right to abortion. These letters of support were presented to Ambassador Ellen Saurbrey.

Nonetheless, The New York Times and Reuters reported that the US was backing away from its amendment, and though some pro-family NGOs denied this report, the US did withdraw the amendment. Diplomatically, the consensus for the US amendment was lacking. A consensus failed primarily because even nations who shared the US concern over abortion were unwilling to jeopardize an affirmation of the original Beijing document.

Yet, the US initiative is counted as a pro-life victory. It had the effect of forcing nations and their delegates at the Beijing +10 review to examine the ambiguous language and to publicly acknowledge that they did not construe such language as a "right" to abortion. This assertion by pro-life delegates was confirmed when the Korean chairwoman of the forty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, Ms. Kyung-wha Kang, admitted that the Beijing documents created no new international rights nor the right to abortion.
Ambassador Saurbrey added, "The United States recognizes the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, Egypt, 1994) principle that abortion policies are a matter of national sovereignty. And, we are pleased that so many other governments have indicated their agreement with this position, and we anticipate that we can now focus clearly on addressing the many urgent needs of women around the world".

The assessment of the Holy See's delegation was published in L'Osservatore Romano on March 9:

The Holy See shares the concerns of other delegations about efforts to represent the outcome documents of Beijing as creating new international rights.... Any attempt to do so would go beyond the scope of the authority of this Commission. With respect to the recently adopted declaration, the Holy See would have preferred a clearer statement emphasizing that the Beijing documents cannot be interpreted as creating new human rights, including a right to abortion.

Thoughtful criticism of the UN proceedings on Beijing +10 was offered by Lucetta Scaraffia, a Roman professor of history and author of essays on women's issues. Writing in il Foglio, Scaraffia pointed out that the UN rarely achieves its stated goals where women are concerned. And yet, she said, "no one advances a real critical analysis of the United Nations' political stance on women, from the point of view of both progress in terms of stated aims, and the character and content of the discussions. The United States seems to be the only participant to have tried to point out shortcomings or errors in the system of non-governmental agencies and organizations created to eliminate discrimination against women".

Examples given by Professor Scaraffia include the maltreatment of women in some Muslim nations despite those nations' signatures on CEDAW. Another example popped the UN's Population Fund (UNFPA) for its "promotion of birth control and of the use of condoms to fight AIDS... in a Catholic country like Guatemala and a multireligious country like Uganda". (Several voices were heard in the UN's halls asking why greater note was not made over the success Uganda had reported in reducing AIDS by promoting monogamy and chastity.)

Professor Scaraffia points out that real progress -- in education, work, and political rights -- "seem[s] to count for less: or rather, the implication is that these would be the consequence of birth control". This dogmatic hold out for abortion by UN bureaucrats is "a means of squelching women beneath their biological identity, and of imposing a typically Western conception of fertility and childbearing", according to the professor. Numerous women from nations where traditional family structures prevail echoed her assessment at Beijing +10.

Professor Scaraffia is one sprig of hope coming from Europe where a new awareness of the cataclysmic European birth dearth may be changing viewpoints among the more honest scholars. With persistence at the international level and educational efforts at the local and regional level, pro-family advocates may yet move the nations of the world toward a culture of life.

Mary Jo Anderson, a member of the Voices editorial board, writes on the United Nations and family issues for Crisis, WorldNet Daily, and other publications. Her commentaries have appeared on radio and television.

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