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Women's clinc in Dakar, Senegal (AP/Photo by Dima Gavrysh)

No more euphemisms

Abortion | Activists at a UN forum use bold language to promote their worldwide agenda of abortion and sexual freedom

NEW YORK-At a recent United Nations-sponsored forum on sexual and reproductive health, activists stripped away the euphemisms and were plain about their goals: more funding to promote reproductive rights and increased access to abortion.

The "Global Partners in Action: NGO Forum on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Development" conference earlier this week trained 400 NGO representatives to lobby their 131 countries for more reproductive health funding. Participants included abortion rights organizations such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the Women's Global Network for Reproductive Health, Marie Stopes International, and Catholics for Choice.

Purnima Mane-deputy executive director of the UN Population Fund, the conference's co-sponsor-urged activists to "enlarge the pot" of $11.1 billion given to population-related programs in 2008. Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, said that abortion advocates' strategy was to dip into the millions going to HIV/AIDS prevention. Presenters spoke of integrating "comprehensive abortion care" with other sexual and reproductive health services, meaning that clinics getting money for HIV care should also be providing reproductive services.

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This poses a health risk in countries like Africa, Wright pointed out, where supplies are so limited that they use instruments over and over again. Using the same instruments for an HIV patient and an expectant mother could even lead to the spread of HIV infection.

While most activists were bold in presenting their agenda, some conference attendees continued to use some veiled language-indicating that they promote "safe abortion" or "maternal health" when what they actually endorse is legalization of abortion. For example, one group distributed stickers telling women how to perform do-it-yourself illegal abortions by lying to pharmacists. Another group passed out pamphlets that said "I need an abortion" in six different languages, directing women in countries without "safe abortion" to doctors who can provide them. The conference's final call to action urged countries to repeal "restrictive and punitive laws" that "criminalize … abortion."

Despite these instances, Wright said the language and purpose was plainer than one usually finds at these conferences. One workshop, "Gods, Sex and Politics," told participants to use sex as a weapon against religion, since sexually active youth are less likely to be religiously observant. "They state it-that religion is an obstacle to their goal and the way to combat this religious interest among youth is to promote sex," Wright said.

The final "Call to Action" urged countries to promote rights of "pregnancy, childbirth . . . sexuality, sexual orientation, [and] pleasure." It also urged eliminating parental consent for young people's sexual and reproductive rights, and called on donors to keep their funding commitments, "particularly in a time of economic crisis."

Wright said the message was bold: "The world is facing a global economic crisis but their response is essentially, we need more money."

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