United States ‘Under Fire’ for Stalling Progress on Plan of Action Supporting Sex Education, HIV Prevention at Bangkok Conference
The United States yesterday came "under fire" at the Fifth Asian and Pacific Population Conference for continuing to oppose reproductive health and family planning language in a 1994 international agreement, effectively stalling progress on the conference's Plan of Action, Reuters Health reports. U.N. member countries have been working for almost 10 years toward an international agreement on family planning and safe sex to prevent the spread of HIV and prevent unplanned pregnancies (Wong-Anan, Reuters Health, 12/16). 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 Program of Action adopted at the 1994 International Conference of Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt (Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 12/16). The drafting committee sessions yesterday were "deadlock[ed]," and the U.S. delegates, who oppose the current draft Plan of Action, encouraged a vote on the draft even though nearly all the other delegations support the draft as is, the South China Morning Post reports. A source at the conference said the United States "thinks it can win a vote, because [it is] bullying states which depend on Washington for aid, saying we'll cut your funding if you don't vote for us" (England, South China Morning Post, 12/17).
Representatives from advocacy groups have said that the United States' position is "put[ting] the health of millions of women in the region at risk," Reuters Health reports. Terri Bartlett, vice president of Population Action International, said, "The impact of such an extreme agenda -- if approved -- would be both brutal and unjust for women and families of this region" (Reuters Health, 12/16). Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, said, "The phrase 'reproductive health services' is not code for the promotion or support for 'abortion services.' Nothing in the proceedings at Cairo, or the five-year review, justifies describing them as such." She added that each country has the "sovereign right" to craft laws on "all aspects" of reproductive health -- including abortion, according to the Jakarta Post. Still, Assistant Secretary of State Eugene Dewey, the U.S. conference delegate, said, "Up to this point, there has been a concerted effort to create a gulf by pushing the United States to violate its principles and accept language that promotes abortion. We have been asked to reaffirm the entirety of the ICPD principles and recommendations, even though we have repeatedly stated that to do so would constitute endorsement of abortion." He added, "When the United States offered to reaffirm the ICPD with a general footnote stating [that the phrases do not promote abortion] explicitly, using recent consensus language, this proposal was met with a deaf ear. If the ICPD does not promote abortion, why is there such unwillingness to reaffirm this in the draft document?" (Yuliandini, Jakarta Post, 12/17). Dewey also said that "whatever the outcome" of the conference, which is scheduled to end today, the United States would continue to fund United Nations agencies for family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention programs, according to Reuters Health (Reuters Health, 12/17).