May 17th 2003

  Buy Issue 2657

Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Ethanol - behind the disinformation

EDITORIAL: New situations demand new policies

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Government sets itself a trap on Medicare

Will South Australia Upper House hold the line on life issues?

STRAWS IN THE WIND: We get the rights / Rap festival / Bogus leftists, fairy luddites

QUEENSLAND: Beattie challenges Nationals over sugar deregulation

Iraq fallout may end multilateral trade deals

HEALTH: Stopping feeding and hydration is true euthanasia

EDUCATION: Surviving the latest classroom fads

LIFESTYLE: SARS, AIDS and public policy

FAMILY: Bush and Howard diverge on life and family

BOOK REVIEW: The World We're In, by Will Hutton

BOOK REVIEW: Growth Fetish, by Clive Hamilton

ARTS: Melbourne Comedy Festival: A comedy of political errors?

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Bush and Howard diverge on life and family

by Babette Francis

News Weekly, May 17, 2003
The close alliance between US President Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Iraq and in dealing with terrorism does not appear to extend to social issues.

Bush is unapologetically pro-life, and in January addressed via TV the pro-life march in Washington DC mourning the 30th anniversary of the US Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade which gave the US abortion on demand.

Although Howard has usually voted pro-life on the few occasions when legislation on abortion has come up in Parliament, he appears lukewarm on the issue and when publicly questioned says he considers abortion is "a matter between a woman and her doctor". He does not mention the rights of the unborn child or its father.

The Bush Administration is also enthusiastically promoting - and funding - abstinence programs in sex education, while in Australia the emphasis is still on "safe sex" relying on condoms, the contraceptive pill and now the Morning After Pill.

The divergence between Bush and Howard on social issues is never more apparent than at UN Conferences dealing with women's issues. (Most UN Conferences, whether they deal with Human Rights, Habitat, Children, or Food, always bog down in long debates over "reproductive rights", which are code words for abortion on demand).

During the Clinton era, Australia voted at the UN with the JUSCANZ bloc - a grouping comprising Japan, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland and Norway.

All these countries, except Australia, had socialist or left-of centre governments, so it was disheartening that Australia, with a conservative Prime Minister and an allegedly pro-family government, did not distance itself from this bloc.

There has been a dramatic change in the US delegation since Bush became President. Now the US is emphatically pro-life and pro-family, and this has made an enormous difference at the UN as the US delegation is the largest and the most powerful.

Sadly, Australia does not seem to have aligned itself with the pro-life and pro-family voting of the US. It appears to be still voting with the JUSCANZ bloc, now known as "like minded countries" as it is minus the US.

Every year the UN's Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meets in New York in early March to review progress on women's issues. This year the documents to be discussed were "Women and Media" and "Violence Against Women". The Australian delegation always includes one or two non-government representatives, invariably from feminist organisations. Pro-life women are not included, with the sole exception of Mrs. Rita Joseph in 1999.


In 1996, the year the Howard Government was elected, Australia's NGO "Adviser" was Jo Wainer of the East Melbourne abortion clinic. This is not to imply that Howard would have approved of such an appointment - rather that he leaves the selection of the delegation to the Minister and the Office of the Status of Women - who are pro-abortion, not pro-life.

Others on the Australian delegation are bureaucrats from the Department of Foreign Affairs or from Australia's Permanent Mission to the UN in New York. Some of these representatives seem to be stuck in a time-warp and appear to be still trying to implement the agenda of the Hawke-Keating era.

By contrast, the US delegations are fully in tune with Bush Administration policy and include representatives of major pro-life and pro-family non-government organisations.

This year's delegation to CSW, besides representatives from the US State Department, included women from Concerned Women for America and Family Research Council. The US delegation held daily press briefings during which they competently outlined US policy.

My husband, Charles,and I, spent the second week of March at the UN's Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York when the document on "Violence Against Women" was debated. As a lawyer Charles was astounded that the haggling in these debates about a single paragraph could take an entire morning, even though I had explained to him that UN conferences often resemble the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, with Humpty Dumpty saying "Words will mean what I say they mean".

The CSW discussions are held in the basement meeting rooms at the UN, and to give Charles a break from "women's business", I took him upstairs to listen to debates on Iraq at the Security Council. What he heard (despite the presiding Chairman's plea for brevity) was a long diatribe against the USA from a Cuban delegate.

Cuba is not currently a member of the Security Council, but non-member nations were given an opportunity to express their views, on the understanding they speak briefly. Charles could find no relevance to the Iraqi situation in anything the Cuban said, and I explained to him (again) that at the UN speeches are not necessarily relevant. (See above, Mad Hatter's Tea Party).

As expected, abortion was put into the document on "Violence Against Women" by the European Union which wanted "forced pregnancy" to refer not only to rape in war time, but also to refer to any country which had any restriction on abortion. This was unacceptable to the US, the Vatican and a number of pro-life Muslim and Third World countries, so the conference which was supposed to conclude on Friday, March 14, was extended to the following Tuesday.

As usual, pro-lifers spent much of our time lobbying on procedural matters - in particular to ensure that the meeting could not be unduly prolonged.

Wore down

It often happens that the EU delegation, Canada and other countries promoting abortion wording, try to achieve a consensus on controversial points by wearing down the delegates from (typically) smaller, poorer countries, with all night sessions. They were unable to do so this time, and so the 47th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women concluded on Tuesday, March 18, without agreement.

When the US and pro-life Muslim countries objected to attempts by the Tunisian chairman to claim that agreement had been reached on the controversial document a new chairman from South Korea took over and accepted that the whole document had to be dropped.

Peter Smith, chief administrative officer of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (UK), who is one of the most active pro-life lobbyists at the UN, said: "The accepted procedure is that no document can be adopted without broad consensus, but the pro-abortionists are willing to break all the rules to further their radical agenda. On this occasion they failed, and so we welcome the return to the rule of law at the UN."

It may seem odd that not achieving agreement on a UN document is considered a victory for the pro-life movement, but at the UN no news (and no document) is often good news.

In the meantime one can only hope that during Prime Minister's John Howard's visit to President Bush at his Texas ranch, Bush can inspire him to adopt not only his policies against terrorism but also his policies on life and family and the composition of delegations to UN Conferences.

  • Babette Francis -

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TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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