U.S. Asserts that Beijing Declaration Didn’t Create Right to Abortion

The United States angered abortion supporters when it filed two amendments at a ten-year review of the 1995 Beijing declaration insisting that the declaration did not create a right to abortion.

The Beijing declaration is a 150-page statement calling for an improvement in the condition of women worldwide, in areas as diverse as education, health care, politics and, of course, sexuality.

Efforts were made at the time to explicitly refer to abortion as a right in the declaration, but these were rejected by governments that have restrictive polices on abortion. The United States, under President Bill Clinton, supported efforts to declare abortion a right. Instead the declaration mad generic statements such as asserting that nations should,

Ensure equal access to and equal treatment of women and men in education and health care and enhance women’s sexual and reproductive health as well as education

It also asserts that women have the right to,

. . . decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality . . . free of coercion, discrimination and violence.

At this year’s meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Status of Women, the United States submitted an amendment it wanted added to any reaffirmation of the Beijing Declaration. The amendments would have added language that declared that “while reaffirming [the Beijing Declaration] that they do not create any new international human rights, and that they do not include the right to abortion”

The amendments met with strong opposition, and for awhile bogged down the reaffirmation process. Eventually, however, the United States withdrew its amendments. The U.S. representative on the Committee, Ellen Sauerbrey, delivered a statement to the committee from Condoleeza Rice which read, in part,

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. The United States recognizes the International Conference on Population and Development 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.

Apparently the United States concluded it got what it wanted by making it clear that by reaffirming the Beijing Declaration it was not affirming any sort of right to abortion.


U.S. Pushes U.N. on Abortion Declaration. Associated Press, March 28, 2005.

US sparks row at UN over abortion. The BBC, February 28, 2005.

Women?s Leaders Welcome U.S. Decision To Rejoin Global Consensus for Women?s Human Rights. PlanetWire.Org, March 4, 2005.

Statement by the United States Representative to the Commission on the Status of Women. Press Release, United States Mission to the United Nations, March 2, 2005.

Fourth World Conference on Women Beijing Declaration. 1995.

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