Wed, Jun 30, 2004 - Page 6 News List

US policy on sexual rights condemned

AP , SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

Two reports by advocacy groups say the US government's opposition to abortion and young people's use of condoms infringe on reproductive rights and are out of step with attitudes across Latin America, which is reviewing efforts to slow population growth.

One report, issued Monday by an international group of scholars from New York's Columbia University, criticizes US President George W. Bush's administration for "a sweeping, comprehensive attack on sexual rights."

The Washington-based Catholics for a Free Choice issued results of polls in three Latin American countries that indicated the Vatican and the Bush administration are "out of step" for taking stances at Latin American meetings that oppose contraception while the vast majority of Catholics in Latin America support a full range of contraceptive methods.

The reports were published at the start of a five-day conference of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, where delegates including a UN official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the US is pressing Latin Americans to adopt more conservative policies on contraception -- policies they say would slow development.

"There is the worry that if Bush is re-elected these policies will then be pursued even more violently, because politically there isn't anything to lose," said Richard Parker, a Columbia socio-medical sciences professor and co-chairman of the university's International Working Group on Sexuality and Social Policy.

The report also criticized the US government for policies penalizing groups seeking to provide birth control options.

Bush in 2001 reinstated a policy barring aid to foreign nonprofit groups promoting abortions. Since 2002, the US government has blocked US$34 million in annual aid to the UN Population Fund, saying it contributes to coerced abortions in China -- a charge that agency denies.

A senior US delegate said the report was an "unfair attack."

The official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said Bush believes strongly that while he wants to support reproductive health, including family planning, abortion can play no part, and that abstinence is a key to preventing sexually transmitted diseases among youths.

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