The abortion fight back home

When the Bush administration pushed for an international resolution on abortion rights, was it acting out of concern for women in foreign lands or judges in the United States?

By Tim Grieve
Published March 7, 2005 12:02PM (EST)

For an administration with no shortage of problems in its international relationships, a U.N. conference commemorating the tenth anniversary of a declaration on women's rights might seem like an odd place to pick a fight with the rest of the world.

Or not.

At this month's U.N. conference on women in New York, the United States fought hard for a resolution that would have "clarified" that the 10-year-old Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action did not create any new human rights -- including, particularly, any new international right to an abortion. In the face of fierce opposition from other nations, the administration dropped the resolution late last week but still went out of its way to declare that the Beijing document did nothing to foster international abortion rights.

News reports have treated the administration's efforts at the conference as just another example of its kowtowing to the religious right. It's surely that, but it's probably something more, too: a preemptive strike against U.S. judges who could someday use the Beijing document as a basis for protecting abortion rights in the United States.

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that states could no longer execute juvenile killers, it relied, in part, on the practices of other countries and even a U.N. resolution in concluding that the practice amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment." The right is up in arms about the court's increasing reliance on "foreign" laws, and that concern may explain the Bush administration's actions at the U.N. conference last week. When William Rehnquist and other justices begin to step down, the religious right will expect George Bush to pack the court with new judges committed to overturning Roe v. Wade. If and when that opportunity finally arises, Bush won't want a relatively obscure international resolution on women's rights to stand in anyone's way.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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