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Unpaid US UN Dues - The Abortion Concession

Officials of the White House and Congress met today (NZDT) in an attempt to break the budget logjam in a deal over overseas abortion funding and US$1 billion in outstanding UN dues owed by the US. John Howard reports.

Hoping to break a budget logjam, White House and congressional officials discussed a deal under which President Clinton would accept limits on some US-subsidised abortion activities abroad in exchange for nearly US$1 billion for unpaid dues to the United Nations.

Under discussion at the Capitol was a plan in which federally supported groups would no longer be able to lobby for liberalised abortion laws overseas, said a congressional aid who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The president would be able to waive the restriction, but if he did, there would be some reduction in the US$385 million the United States plans to spend this year for foreign family-planning programs.

The abortion language was linked not only to UN dues but to an administration effort to let the IMF expand its role in providing debt relief to poor countries.

Depending on its details, an agreement to limit overseas abortion activities could be a major political victory for anti-abortion forces, and could help cement conservative support for a final budget deal.

Clinton revoked a long-time ban on overseas abortion advocacy shortly after taking office in 1993, and for years has fought off conservatives' efforts to reinstate it.

Any agreement to do so, might anger abortion-rights groups and many Congressional Democrats. It also might affect VP Al Gore's presidential campaign and Hillary Clinton's expected candidacy for the Senate from New York.

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Unless the US pays a portion of the money owed to the UN by 31 December it would lose its vote in the UN General Assembly.

A deal involving a waiver may not work according to Senate Minority leader, Tom Daschle.

"That may not be satisfactory for those who feel strongly about the need to ensure that family planning and overall leadership on the part of this country with regard to the vast array of responsibilities we have with other countries could be met. So this is not an easy issue," he said.

Most New Zealanders will probably be surprised that the US is funding overseas abortion and family planning activities at all. Maybe this was one of the reasons behind arch-conservative Jesse Helms' opposing Carol Moseley-Braun as US Ambassador to New Zealand. She has since been confirmed by the Senate in his absence but there were seemingly behind-the -scenes deals done.


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