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Friday, January 30, 2009

Ecstasy at the UN as U.S. under Obama rejoins global abortion consensus

UNITED NATIONS — Almost as soon as the Obama Administration had announced its intention to restore American funding to UN family planning activities, the chorus here at UN headquarters was offering fulsome praise for Washington’s predicted policy change. Officials of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), proclaimed that they looked forward to being part of President Obama’s call “for a fresh conversation on family planning, working to find common ground to best meet the needs of women and families around the world.”   

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Ms. Thoraya Obaid, the Saudi Arabian national who serves as Executive Secretary of UNFPA noted proudly, “President Obama’s actions send a strong message about his leadership.” She was happy to welcome the United States to rejoin “180 other donor nations working collaboratively to reduce poverty, improve the health or women and children, prevent HIV/AIDS and provide family planning assistance to women in 154 countries.”

The U.S. policy turnaround on supporting often controversial UNFFA activities, also importantly included a decision to revoke the Mexico City policy which had barred American funds from going to non-governmental organizations which provide family planning services and promote abortion.

During the Reagan Administration the USA withheld funding from family planning groups that advocated, counseled, or offered abortions. While the ban was lifted during the Clinton years, it was again reinstated during the recent Bush presidency.

The Vatican was shocked but not surprised by Obama’s turnaround on the dignity of human life. “Among the many good things that he could have done, Barack Obama instead chose the worst,” opined Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, an official with the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life. Many observers feel there could be a brewing conflict between the White House and the Holy See on a whole range of social issues, among them stem cell research.

While Washington’s exact contribution is yet to be determined by Congress, the figure would be approximately $40 to $60 million annually of American tax dollars flowing into UNFPA’s coffers. The organization’s primary donor states include the Netherlands with $54 million as well as well as Sweden and Denmark.

The majority of funding naturally goes to the least developed countries and is focused on women in need of safe family planning. Ms. Obaid admitted that unsafe abortions were “considered the second leading cause of death for African women. Moreover women who did not have access to family planning “would go to have unsafe abortions.”

On the geo-political front the news was no less uninteresting. Susan Rice, the new American Ambassador to the UN presented her credentials, and no sooner announced that the United States would look forward to opening a dialogue with Iran. While this came as no surprise either, the Islamic Republic of Iran on the eve of celebrating its 30th anniversary in power, was predictably quick to lay down “conditions” for any negotiations with Washington.

And entering the theatre of the absurd, the Group of 77 and China, that assembly of actually 130 developing countries has elected Sudan as the group’s chairman for the year replacing the Caribbean island state of Antigua and Barbuda. Sudan’s elevation to chair the Group of 77 seems akin to nominating financial fraudster Bernie Madoff as chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission to oversee Wall Street stocks. Sudan’s tenure allows this world-class human rights abuser the opportunity to stall and shut down tepid international actions concerning Darfur’s humanitarian crisis. As a most fitting touch to celebrate its chairmanship, oil-rich but economically poor Sudan hosted a lavish reception for delegates.

There’s a tragic irony here too. Just days after assuming the chairmanship of the G-77, the Sudan government and its allied Jangaweed militia were engaged in a flare-up of renewed fighting with rebel forces in the disputed Darfur region. A UN official briefing the Security Council lamented, “The problem here is that they have chosen right now to follow the path of confrontation and war instead of negotiations. ” Since 2003 the conflict has led to an estimated 300,000 deaths and forced 2.7 million people to flee their homes.

As we enter this Brave New World , sadly some things never change.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for
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