Beijing '95 and the "Right" to Abortion

Interview With Austin Ruse of Pro-life C-FAM

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NEW YORK, MARCH 3, 2005 ( A decade after the Beijing Conference on Women, the United Nations has reconvened to discuss the implementation of the Platform for Action proposed at the 1995 event.

Pro-abortion organizations and governments have referred to the 1995 conference to justify implementing policies as if the Beijing event had granted recognition to a universal right to abortion.

In a two-week-long “Beijing+10” conference now under way, delegates will consider ratifying the original Beijing document to clarify that it in fact did not grant legitimacy to abortion on an international level.

Helping to lead a coalition of pro-life, pro-family nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) at the U.N. conference is Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM).

Q: What are the major issues on the table for conference?

Ruse: The No. 1 controversy is how the original Beijing Conference might have promoted abortion or how the Beijing document is used by certain bodies in the U.N. and elsewhere in other bodies to support abortion.

The U.S. wants to amend this document, which references the original document, to say that the original document did not establish a right to abortion.

That has become the controversial topic of the conference and in the major media. There are newspapers stories all over the world today saying that the U.S. is fighting for a pro-life message in the current document.

Q: Is that true?

Ruse: In a way that’s true, because the U.S. is insisting that the original document did not establish a right to abortion.

Now, in the newspapers, people will say, “No, the Beijing document did not establish a right to abortion.” But, in the implementing committees, radical NGOs say that Beijing did establish a right to abortion.

So, they have a double message on whether they’re talking to the press or whether they’re talking to their own committee. They tend to fib a little bit.

Q: Who are these “radical NGOs”?

Ruse: The International Womens’ Health Coalition is quoted all over the papers today, and they’re telling stories that aren’t true. They’re saying publicly that the Beijing Conference didn’t establish a right to abortion. But in their own documents they are saying that the Beijing did establish a right to abortion.

The Center for Reproductive Rights is another NGO that makes this claim. U.N. committees make this claim.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women makes this claim, so it’s governmental, intergovernmental and nongovernmental [organizations] that make the claim that, in order to properly implement the Beijing, you have to have abortion laws.

Q: Does the U.S. stand alone?

Ruse: I don’t know exactly the state of the debate because we’re not allowed in the room … but I’m certain that the U.S. is not alone. I’m certain that the Holy See is supporting this measure. I’m sure that other nations are supporting this measure.

I’m suspecting that there are even pro-life nations in the EU. I suspect that the U.S. is not alone.

Q: Who will be most affected by the outcome document of this conference?

Ruse: Governments are affected and individuals are affected. These documents come out of the U.N. and then they’re implemented by member states. They become political tools for NGOs. They’re used by governments and domestic courts to say that international standards have been set.

These documents, while legally nonbinding, are used to impose a particular agenda on individuals, on countries around the world.

Q: What does the pro-life, pro-family movement hope to achieve at this conference?

Ruse: We are here to ensure that the U.N. does not establish a universal right to abortion. That has been the aim of our opponents for many years: to establish a universal right to abortion. And we, so far, have stopped that.

Our little coalition, working with a small number of member states, has stopped the other side from universalizing the right to abortion.

The pro-life and pro-family coalition at the United Nations is a remarkable thing. It is people of many different faiths — Catholic, Mormon, evangelical — all working together for exactly the same goal.

It’s probably one of the few places on earth where such ecumenical, such truly ecumenical-interreligious, dialogue actually happens.

We put aside all of our theological differences and work literally off of the same piece of paper. … It’s a sight to behold.

Q: Are you optimistic about the outcome of this conference?

Ruse: We have a very difficult position to advance and the reason is because we want to amend the document on this language.

In order to achieve that, consensus comes into play. Consensus in the U.N. would mean, at least theoretically, that everyone in the room has to agree. That means that everyone in the room, including the EU, has to agree with what we want.

This is a very difficult thing to achieve. It is the way we blocked abortion.

All you have to do is to get enough member states to block it. There will be significant opposition from the European Union that will cause very serious problems for this particular amendment.

Q: What will happen if the proposed language is not approved?

Ruse: The status quo is that the Beijing Conference did not establish a right to abortion, but it is being treated by committees as if it did.

What we’re trying to do with this amendment is to ratify or confirm that the Beijing Conference didn’t establish a right to abortion.

If we lose this amendment, it doesn’t mean that the Beijing Conference established [a right to] abortion, but the result will be that U.N. committees will continue to implement the document as if it did.

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