Editor’s note: WND contributing reporter Mary Jo Anderson is at the United Nations this week covering the meetings of national delegates in preparation for the United Nations World Summit for Children to be held September 19-21.

NEW YORK – Delegates from 180 nations sat mute and stunned at the response given when Terry Miller of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations asked for a clarification of the word “services” in language offered by Canada, setting off an international controversy over the “A-word.”

The phrase proposed for a draft document to be presented at the September United Nations World Summit for Children was, “full gender equality and equal access to services, such as education, nutrition, health care, including sexual and reproductive health care. …”

During the late-night session, negotiations had tightened as deliberations moved toward paragraph 21 of the draft document, where problematical phrases would need careful review. The Canadian delegate took the floor and replied with exasperation, “The distinguished delegate of the United States knows that, of course – and I hate to use the word – but in ‘services’ is included abortion.”

Pandemonium and shock followed. The A-word has never been explicitly defined as included in “services” in any prior U.N. conference documents, such as the Beijing Platform for Action.

“In that case,” said Miller, “brackets must go around that word.” Brackets mark the text for later negotiations. Miller continued, “Now that we have had the explicit definition of services as including abortion, I would be amazed if my delegation is the only delegation to object to the use of ‘services.'”

Pro-family delegations were adamant that if “services” meant abortion, they could not accept such language. The delegate from Chile, who serves as a spokesman for the 10-nation Rio Group, was clear: “In my country, abortion is illegal. We by no means support abortion in the use of ‘services’ and so we delete ‘services.'”

Msgr. Reinert of the Holy See delegation was emphatic: “My delegation – and personally, I am shocked – we will have to re-examine the entire document for the word ‘service’ if it means abortion. Every time the U.N. uses ‘services,’ if it means basic social services that is acceptable, but not including abortion.” Bahrain supported the Holy See.

The delegate from Canada responded, “It seems that I’ve ignited a firestorm. … But I am quite surprised it provoked a storm. It doesn’t mean that different delegations cannot use different interpretations. … we will not feel constrained if they want to define ‘services’ as basic social services.”

During the 1990s, several United Nations conferences have sought to make abortion a universal right. Pro-family non-governmental organizations and pro-family nations have fought close battles to keep abortion a matter reserved to individual nations and not codified in international covenants and legal instruments. Each successive conference has become a testy battleground between nations with liberal abortion laws, such as Sweden and Norway, and the nations where abortion is not legal. Pro-family policy planners have viewed with alarm the World Summit for Children document as it has progressed through several drafts. They see the trend toward granting children 0-18 years old more autonomy as an unhealthy trend that divides parents and children. The “right” for minors to seek an abortion without parental knowledge or consent is just one of the many contentious issues under discussion at the U.N. this week.

Many delegates observe that, moral issues aside, the question of abortion has now become an issue of sovereignty.

“Each nation ought to be respected for its culture and historical as well as religious traditions,” remarked a delegate from Mexico. The Mexican delegation under Vincente Fox is split over abortion issues but is expected to confirm the pro-life position.

Sudan, also serving as a spokesman for a group of nations, was tenacious in its refusal to be cowed by what is known as the “northern nations,” a reference to the northern European nations that have liberal abortion and euthanasia policies.

Pro-family organizations and delegations had been put on guard earlier in the afternoon when Sweden sought to insert into the document the phrase, “the family in its various forms,” a euphemism understood by analysts as a bid for official recognition of homosexual liaisons. Sudan, Egypt, Malawi and the Holy See, among others, rejected this text.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.