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  June 6, 1996

The Honorable Warren Christopher
The Honorable Madeleine Albright
United States Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520

 
Dear Secretary Christopher and Ambassador Albright:

         I am writing to express deep concern regarding the "reproductive and sexual health" measure recently introduced by the United States delegation at the United Nations' Habitat II conference. I do not understand the origin or purpose of this measure, which calls for "universal and equal access to . . . reproductive and sexual health care services." It appeared nowhere in the draft Habitat Agenda. It was not among the many United States proposals detailed in the April 15 Addendum to the Agenda. Nor was it even alluded to in the pre-conference press releases issued by the State Department. Pre-conference publicity led me to believe that Habitat II would not re-open discussion of those issues.

         As you may well imagine, as Chairman of the House subcommitttee charged with oversight of United States participation in international conferences, I would have been keenly interested in knowing that the United States delegation intended to address sexual and reproductive issues at the Istanbul conference. Indeed, prior to the conference I requested from the State Department information regarding the positions that would be taken by the U.S. delegation. That request has been followed up by multiple telephone queries. I still have not received this information.

         In response to charges from other participants in the Habitat conference that the United States is trying to rewrite the conference agenda, a member of the U.S. delegation is reported to have stated that the proposal merely "reaffirms" the sexual and reproductive rights provisions of the Cairo conference on population. Even if this were true, a last-minute attempt to insert language on sexual and reproductive health care into a conference on housing and related issues would seem inappropriate --- except to those who believe that population control is the answer to every single problem.

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          In any event, the advocacy of "universal access" to "sexual and reproductive health care" --- without the important language from the Cairo document affirming that abortion is a matter for each nation to resolve through its own legislative process --- can and will be construed as yet another attempt to assert an international right to abortion. Any such assertion threatens to undo the delicate, negotiated balance that was necessary to secure even the appearance of consensus at the Cairo conference.

          I urge the United States delegation to withdraw its ill-considered "sexual and reproductive health" proposal. This proposal has already deflected attention from the urgent problems of homelessness and substandard living conditions that are within the legitimate scope of the Habitat conference.

          I also request an immediate and full response by the State Department to the request for information I made before the conference began.

Sincerely,

CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH
Chairman, Subcommittee on International
Operations & Human Rights

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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