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U.S. May Skip U.N. Assembly Session On Children Due to Abortion Clause

By Alan Sipress

The Bush administration may refuse to send a high-level delegation to a special U.N. General Assembly session on children next month because of concerns that the final declaration will contain language supporting abortion counseling and services, State Department officials said Monday.

U.S. officials participating in a final round of talks in New York this week are seeking to head off that language as well as clauses that the administration believes overemphasize the rights of children as compared to the rights of their parents.

The administration’s deliberations about how seriously to participate in the special session beginning Sept. 19 come at the same time that the United States is weighing whether to boycott another U.N. event, the conference on racism opening Friday in Durban, South Africa. The State Department announced Monday that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell will not attend the racism conference because of anti-Israeli statements included in the program.

The three-day special session on children is designed to follow up on the 1990 World Summit for Children, which adopted a plan for promoting education, reducing disease, improving health care for women and children and providing better sanitation and food supplies. U.N. organizers say 75 heads of state and government from five continents have confirmed they will attend the session.

But Charles Hunter, a State Department spokesman, said the administration remains concerned about how the special meeting will advance this agenda. “We believe the outcome document should be an inspiring and focused one, which renews political will and sets specific, achievable goals,” he said.

As a result of uncertainty about the final document, Hunter said the administration has not yet determined the level of representation it will have. “The decision about U.S. participation in the conference will be made closer to the event,” he said.

If top U.S. officials choose to stay away from the special session, it could fuel criticism in Washington and overseas that the Bush team has little interest in international cooperation to combat global problems. Not only has the United States balked at high-level participation in the racism conference, but it also has clashed with other countries during recent conferences meant to stem the spread of small arms and enforce restrictions on the proliferation of biological weapons.

But the administration made clear in its earliest days how seriously it takes the issue of overseas abortions when it cut off U.S. funding for international family planning agencies that provide abortion services.