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U.S. Yields In U.N. Abortion Spat

Under intense global pressure, the United States dropped its demand that a new U.N. declaration on women's equality make clear there is no international right to abortion.

But Washington continued to insist the document must not "create any new international human rights" — which opponents say could also mean abortion.

U.S. Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey announced the changes at a closed-door meeting on Thursday, telling reporters afterward that abortion policy should be determined at the national — not global — level.

But there appeared to be no support even for a watered-down amendment. In one speech after another, delegates from the European Union, the African Union and the Mercosur trading bloc in South America insisted on leaving the declaration untouched.

As it now stands, the text simply reaffirms the U.N. blueprint for achieving equality of the sexes, which was adopted at a 1995 conference in Beijing.

The wording of the declaration has stolen the spotlight at a U.N. meeting for a review of the Beijing agenda, angering many of the 130 governments and 6,000 activists attending. They had hoped to focus on obstacles to women's equality — not the abortion issue. So had the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, which organized the meeting and drew up the one-page statement.

Nilcea Freire, Brazil's minister for women's affairs, said not a single country supported the revised U.S. amendment.

Sauerbrey blamed that on "peer pressure," saying countries that indicated they would support the U.S. position were too "intimidated" to stand up to "group positions."

She stressed that the major U.S. concern has been to establish a principle that the Beijing platform "is not a legally binding document, that issues such as abortion are issues of national consensus, national policy."

After Thursday's debate, she said she was going to report the reaction of delegates to Washington and await instructions.

"Whatever happens in the next day or two, I think one of the things that has been very clearly established that should give a lot of comfort to concerned Americans is that virtually every country said we interpret it the same as you — we interpret that these are issues of national sovereignty," Sauerbrey said.

"If we can establish that clearly, we will feel that we have established something constructive," she said.

June Zeitlin, executive director of the New York-based advocacy group Women's Environment and Development Organization, said dropping the reference to abortion was "a good first step" and the United States should now withdraw the entire amendment "and join the women of the world and the global consensus to unequivocally reaffirm the Beijing platform."

Adrienne Germain, president of the International Women's Health Coalition, called the shortened U.S. amendment "disingenuous."

"By keeping the phrase no new international human rights, they can then turn around and say, 'Of course no right to abortion,"' she said.