United States’ Refusal To Reaffirm Past Population Agreements at Bangkok Conference Hinders Discussion on Sex Education, HIV/AIDS
The Bush administration's opposition to reproductive health and family planning language in a 1994 international population control agreement has "stalemated" the Fifth Asian and Pacific Population Conference, which began Dec. 11 and concludes tomorrow in Bangkok, Thailand, according to Asian and European diplomats, the New York Times reports (Dao, New York Times, 12/15). U.S. officials at the conference have said they would not "reaffirm" provisions from past agreements on reproductive health and family planning and instead would only "take note of, acknowledge, or recall" the commitments agreed to at previous conferences, including the Bali Declaration on Population and Sustainable Development agreed to at the fourth APPC meeting in Bali, Indonesia, in 1992; the Program of Action adopted at the 1994 International Conference of Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt; the Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China; five-year reports on the implementation of the Bali Declaration; and the ICPD Program of Action and the Millennium Declaration (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/12). U.S. officials said they are concerned that language in the agreement could be "construed as promoting abortion," the Times reports (New York Times, 12/15). A State Department memo to its counterparts from other nations said that while the United States is not backing away from the Cairo agreement, it would not support language that promotes abortion (Knight Ridder/Baltimore Sun, 12/15). The U.S. delegates also requested the removal of a phrase advocating "consistent condom use" as a way to prevent HIV infection (Tang, Associated Press, 12/16). Instead, the Bush administration wants language inserted into the agreement that promotes "natural" family planning methods (New York Times, 12/15). U.S. delegate Eugene Dewey said that the United States "prefers abstinence over condoms," according to the Associated Press (Associated Press, 12/16).
All other 60 member countries of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific have agreed to the conference's draft Plan of Action. According to Asian and European diplomats, in addition to hindering the passage of the Plan of Action, the U.S. position has also made it "impossible" for the conference to address other issues, such as HIV/AIDS prevention, the Times reports. One Asian diplomat said, "People hoped to discuss very practical, service-oriented things: how to develop services to deal with sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, how to do sex education. People's frustration was that we're not able to discuss what we really want to discuss, because the United States insists on renegotiating key Cairo concepts which we are not willing to do" (New York Times, 12/15). Shahab Khawaja, chair of the drafting committee, said that the United States and other member nations could not "bridg[e]" their differences regarding the Plan of Action. As a result of their failure to reach an agreement on the final draft of the Plan of Action, the ministers of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, who are scheduled to begin meeting today, will now be charged with finalizing the plan. The ministers can decide to adopt the Plan of Action or to direct the drafting committee to continue meeting until an agreement on the plan is reached (Yuliandini, Jakarta Post, 12/16).
The Bush administration's stance had started a "skirmish" at the conference, with the United States "virtually isolated in its position," according to several Asian and European diplomats, the Times reports (New York Times, 12/15). Abortion-rights supporters maintain that the Cairo agreement says abortion must be safe in countries where it is legal and does not promote abortion as a family planning method (Enda, San Jose Mercury News, 12/14). They added that changing the language would "undercut" international family planning efforts and adversely impact women's health in developing countries (Knight Ridder/Baltimore Sun, 12/15). Critics of the U.S. stance also alleged that the Bush administration has attempted to change the plan language, which was agreed to by the Clinton administration, to "bolster its support" among Catholic and fundamentalist Christian voters, while a State Department official said that some participants at the conference are attempting to force the United States to "agree to language supporting abortion." The official added that the United States is seeking to "focus on poverty, health and education, respect for women and the family as the fundamental unit of society" (New York Times, 12/15). Representatives of Population Action International attending the conference said they were "stunned and amazed" at U.S. delegates' attempts to remove language referring to condoms, maternal mortality and unsafe abortions, adding that delegates from the Asia-Pacific region "know firsthand the situation in their own countries ... [and] refuse to let U.S. rhetoric -- or the singular domestic political agenda it represents -- dictate either their present or future" (PAI release, 12/15).