Negotiators Work Through Night to Develop Consensus Draft Document at U.N. Session on Children; Abortion, Sex Education Remain Contentious Issues
Delegates to the U.N. General Assembly Special Session on Children worked late into the night yesterday to iron out differences over the phrase "reproductive health services" in the convention's draft declaration, the New York Times reports. However, the language, opposed by a coalition of delegations led by the United States, remains unsettled as the conference heads into its final day (Sengupta, New York Times, 5/10). The U.S. delegation, which is headed by HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, said that the phrase could be construed to include the right to access abortion and that he wants to footnote the document to state specifically that this is not the case. The U.S. position is supported by the Vatican and several Islamic nations. The U.S. delegation also wants to include language promoting abstinence as the best method of sex education (Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 5/9). A U.S. official speaking on the condition of anonymity said yesterday that "all delegates had agreed privately" that "reproductive health services" does not refer to abortion, but the U.S. group wants to ensure that this is stipulated in the final document (Toros, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/10). However, European leaders did not appear ready to agree to any footnoting attempts. Dirk Rotenberg, spokesperson for the German delegation, which is leading the negotiations, added, "It's a countdown now. No one is allowed to go home. If we reach a text no one is happy with, that would be a good compromise" (New York Times, 5/10). Adrienne Germain, president of the International Women's Health Coalition and a U.S. delegate at previous U.N. conferences on social issues, said the Bush administration is "behaving as if they are all three branches of government" by insisting on the exclusion of abortion rights and the addition of abstinence-based sex education. "Their positions are contrary to the Supreme Court, a majority in Congress and U.S. public opinion who support adolescent reproductive health and education," she said (Zabarenko, Reuters, 5/10).
Antiabortion Groups Rally Behind U.S.
In an effort to bolster the United States-led movement to strike any possible endorsement of abortion rights from the conference's draft document, several international nongovernmental organizations that oppose abortion rights circulated a UNICEF-funded document that they say "promotes sexual activity and abortion among teens" in Latin American countries, the Washington Times reports. The Spanish-language book, titled "Theoretic Elements for Working with Mothers and Pregnant Teens," states that "[r]eproductive health includes the following components: Counseling on sexuality, pregnancy, methods of contraception, abortion, infertility, infections and diseases." An accompanying workshop manual also instructs teens and women that "[s]ituations in which you can obtain sexual pleasure" include masturbation, sexual relations with a partner -- male or female -- and "sexual response that is directed toward inanimate objects, animals, minors, non-consenting persons." UNICEF spokesperson Alfred Ironside said that although the agency paid for the publication of the materials, the book was created by the Mexican government in 1999 and was pulled after "the content was more carefully reviewed." The book was "intended as a training manual for people working with adolescent women to prevent teen pregnancy. ... That publication was a compilation of articles by different contributors and has a very clear disclaimer in the front that the views of the writers do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations," he said. He added that fewer than a thousand books were printed, but he was not sure how many remained in circulation (Archibald, Washington Times, 5/10).
A video clip on reproductive health services and youth, produced by Newstream.com for the David and Lucille Packard Foundation and the United Nations Population Fund, is available online in RealPlayer (Newstream.com, 5/10). In addition, an archived kaisernetwork.org HealthCast of "Cutting Edge HIV Prevention for Children and Youth," an interactive event at the U.N. Special Session on Children that featured youth leaders and HIV prevention experts discussing innovative HIV/AIDS prevention strategies for at-risk children and youth, will be available online after 5 p.m. ET today. A new fact sheet from the Kaiser Family Foundation on HIV/AIDS and young people is available online.