US Has Not Backed Down on Pro-Life Stance at UN Meeting

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

(1st add: Includes additional background.)

( - Notwithstanding inaccurate reports in major media, the U.S. delegation at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meeting in New York has not dropped a contentious proposal to make clear that a key document on women's equality does not uphold a "right" to abortion.

Spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the U.N., Richard Grenell, told mid-afternoon Thursday New York time that the reports were wrong.

"The situation is we have not decided what to do, and we are in discussions at the moment," Grenell said.

The U.S. delegation earlier called for the draft of a brief statement reaffirming a platform of action agreed upon at a major women's conference in Beijing in 1995 to include a phrase clarifying that the platform did not include any new rights and did not include "the right to abortion."

The proposal brought a storm of protest from governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and by Wednesday evening, wire services and then other media - including the New York Times - reported that the U.S. had relented.

At a briefing Thursday, the U.S. delegation head, Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey, was asked whether the U.S. was indeed dropping its proposal for the anti-abortion wording to be included in the statement.

"She was specifically asked, and she responded: 'We are waiting for instructions from Washington, but at the moment, no,' " Grenell said.

A lobbying battle is underway Thursday, with pro-life groups from around the world sending in messages of support for the U.S. stance, while NGOs opposed to the pro-life language are also making their views known through petitions.

Austin Ruse, president of the pro-life Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute in New York, sent out an appeal late Wednesday, and almost 800 responses had come in by Thursday morning.

Ruse urged organizations around the world to continue making their voices heard as negotiations continued at the U.N. through the day.

Grenell said the mission was getting "a lot of feedback from both sides."

Media mix-up

On Wednesday afternoon, Reuters began moving a story saying that the U.S. "plans to drop its insistence that a U.N. document on women's equality make clear that abortion is not a fundamental right."

It cited unnamed "negotiators" as saying the White House "would drop the demand."

The Associated Press also sent out a report around the same time but in its case said that "there were indications that the Bush administration was reviewing its position."

Both Reuters and AP reports were widely used around the world overnight and into Thursday.

The New York Times carried its own report Wednesday evening, headlined "U.S. Drops Anti-Abortion Demand at Forum."

The report stated that: "On Wednesday, the leader of the United States delegation agreed to drop the requirement."

A longer version of the NYT report appeared in the International Herald Tribune under the headline "At U.N. forum, U.S. drops its demand for a statement on abortion."

In the Reuters report, spokesman Grenell was quoted as saying: "We are hearing from many delegations that they agree with us and they advise us that the amendment is therefore not needed."

But the NYT report in the Herald Tribune removed the quotes, saying: "Richard Grenell, the spokesman for the American mission, said the United States felt that it had accomplished its original objective in raising the issue and that no amendment would now be necessary."

By Thursday afternoon, the NYT story was still available on its website.

NGOs opposed to the Bush administration's pro-life actions have argued in New York that the insistence on including the pro-life phrase threatens to "undermine" the important documents that came out of the Beijing conference and subsequent ones.

Pro-lifers say the U.S. amendment is crucial because campaign groups have been using the Beijing platform in a bid to push the liberalization of abortion laws around the world.

"The Left has used the Beijing outcome documents - which are technically 'non-binding agreements' - to promote abortion around the world," Janice Crouse, an NGO delegate representing Concerned Women for America at the CSW meeting, wrote in an online opinion piece Thursday.

"Radical feminists have blatantly distorted the intent and reality of the Beijing [platform] to say that a woman's 'right' to an abortion is a basic human right."

Crouse, a former Bush presidential speech writer, said the groups were using the administration's stance as a way to stir up anger against the U.S.

"The goal is to use opposition to the United States' pro-life position in order to legalize abortion around the world," she said. "Not only is this goal abhorrent, it is even more despicable (if possible) because it denies freedom of choice."

See Earlier Story:
Conflicting Reports on US Abortion Stance at UN Meeting (March 3, 2005)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow