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Making “Reproductive Rights” (Read: Abortion) a Relic of the Past

November 7, 2002

Volume 4/ Number 27

Dear Colleague:

The news has been largely overshadowed by his stunning electoral victory, but President Bush has made history on another front this week: He has withdrawn U.S. support from the international “reproductive rights” agenda, a code phrase for abortion and aggressive population control programs. Taken together, this week’s remarkable developments mark an important step toward a family-friendly foreign policy: One that saves lives, instead of promoting abortion.

PRI to Team Bush: Now let’s stop trying to reduce human numbers.

Steven W. Mosher


Making “Reproductive Rights” (Read: Abortion) a Relic of the Past

President Bush made electoral history this week by helping his party take control of the Senate and increase its majority in the House of Representatives, in stark contrast to the Clinton debacle in the 1994 mid-terms. Bush was quietly on the offensive overseas as well, repudiating another part of the Clinton pro-abortion, anti-people legacy: The radical “reproductive rights” agenda embedded in the so-called Cairo Program of Action. Speaking at the United Nations Asian and Pacific Population Conference on Population in Bangkok late last week, Louis Oliver, Senior Coordinator for International Population Policy at the U.S. Department of State (and a Bush appointee), said that the “reproductive rights” language of the 1994 Cairo Program of Action has got to go.(1)

There’s a good reason for dumping the formulation. “Reproductive rights” is an incredibly toxic phrase, coined by international feminists and their anti-people allies determined to impose a worldwide agenda of abortion rights and population control on families and nations around the world.(2)

Heading into the Cairo conference eight years ago, these groups were at first more open about their goals. Clinton’s Assistant Secretary of State for Population and the Environment, Timothy Wirth, proclaimed that abortion was a fundamental human right, and that what was needed to check population growth were global targets and quotas. The strategy was a simple one: First they would present abortion as a human right. Then they would assert the ascendancy of human rights over the sovereign rights of nations. “Nations should not stand on national sovereignty in rejecting this fundamental human right,” Wirth thundered at the conference.

But when this perverse amalgamation of American radical feminist and population bomb mythology appeared in the draft program of action, the Vatican (to everyone’s surprise) cobbled together a loose but effective coalition of Catholic and Islamic states to oppose it. Clinton and Company then retreated to the broad language of “reproductive rights,” sure that they would be able to give it a radical spin once the signatories accepted it. “Reproductive rights’ was intended to be a Trojan Horse for foisting the West’s radical feminism on every nation (there are some 179 in all) gullible enough to have signed the Program of Action.

If the promotion of abortion is not explicit in the Cairo Program of Action, population control is. One objective is “to facilitate the demographic transition as soon as possible… [and] contribute to the stabilization of the world population.”(3) The international community was instructed to mobilize “significant additional financial resources… for national population programs….”(4) Far from abandoning targets, the aim of the Cairo Program of Action was to hold world population down to 7.27 billion in 2015 and 7.8 billion in 2050. It called for “long-term joint programs” and for “[i]mplementation of effective population policies… including reproductive health and family-planning programs” at “…all levels in the policy-making process.”(5)

Since Cairo, “reproductive health” has been defined as the right to an abortion, which has been promoted as a method of “family planning” in China and elsewhere. The Cairo Program of Action has also been used to push for increased funding for population control programs. Countless

women have been coerced into population control programs at the same time that they are denied access to basic health care.

The Bush administration’s decision to abandon the linguistic sinkhole of “reproductive rights” has led abortion supporters into the usual verbal contortions. Timothy Wirth now recalls vaguely that “Cairo was about empowering women and focusing on the special needs and new circumstances surrounding reproductive health issues.”(6) He denies that “reproductive rights” has anything much to do with abortion and claims that the Cairo Program of Action did much to reform coercive population control programs, which had formerly been driven by targets and quotas. Selective amnesia, anyone?

The Chinese delegation at Bangkok also criticized the Bush administration for its decision to withdraw from the “reproductive rights” agenda. Given China’s horrendous one-child policy, the Chinese reaction strikes one as a sign that Bush is on the right track.

Pro-abortion members of the U.S. Congress, including UNFPA supporter Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), also fired broadsides. According to U.N. sources, Mrs. Maloney argued that the American position against “reproductive rights” would undermine a global consensus on population policy.(7)

Unfortunately, the claim that U.S. withdrawal from the Cairo Program of Action will undermine population control programs in developing nations overstates the case. The White House action does not “threaten support for family planning.” U.S. funding for population control through the United States Agency for International Development remains at record level, with almost half a billion dollars for population control appropriated this year alone, money that could be better spent on primary health care.

Since taking office in 2000, President Bush has moved this nation in the direction of the Culture of Life, restoring the Mexico City Policy, cutting funds for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) because of its support of forced abortion in China, and by promoting a ban on reproductive and therapeutic cloning at home and abroad. Withdrawing from the Cairo Program of Action over its thinly disguised injunctions on behalf of abortion would be a further step in the right direction.

We applaud the Bush Administration’s move towards establishing new international standards for foreign aid, respectful of the rights of families and children. Getting us out of the business of “planning” population should be the next step.


1. “U.S. Quits Reproductive Health Pact,” Jodi Enda, Knight Ridder News

Service, November 2, 2002.

2. For example, the mission statement of the National Abortion Rights

Action League (NARAL) reads that it wants “to guarantee every woman the right to make personal decision regarding the full range of reproductive choices, including . . . abortion.” Reproductive rights thus include abortion.

3. ICPD Program of Action.

4. Ibid., ICPD.

5. Ibid., ICPD.

6. Enda.

7. Ibid.

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