Women urge U.S. President George Bush to withdraw nominee for top refugee and population post

Twelve women's advocacy groups sent a letter to President George W. Bush on Wednesday urging him to withdraw the nomination of Ellen Sauerbrey for the U.S. State Department's top refugee and population official, calling her unfit for the job and hostile to women's rights.

The groups said Sauerbrey, the U.S. representative to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, has never worked with refugees, opposes reproductive rights and opposes working with the United Nations.

Bush announced on Aug. 31 that he would nominate Sauerbrey, an abortion opponent, for the post of assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration. A former Maryland state legislator and gubernatorial candidate, Sauerbrey was Maryland chairwoman for Bush's 2000 presidential campaign. If her nomination is confirmed by the Senate, she would oversee more than US$700 million (Ђ586 million) worth of programs for refugee protection, resettlement and humanitarian assistance.

Earlier this year, Sauerbrey headed the U.S. delegation to a U.N. session marking the 10th anniversary of the U.N. women's conference in Beijing. She tried to amend a declaration endorsing the Beijing platform to state that equal rights for women did not include a "right to abortion."

While she was largely carrying out policy decided in Washington, Sauerbrey drew the ire of other governments and some nongovernmental organizations. In the face of strong opposition, Sauerbrey eventually backed down.

Sauerbrey strongly advocates the Bush administration's decision to withhold funding from the U.N. Population Fund because the agency contributes to China's "coercive abortion" program. This year, Congress appropriated $34 million for the program, but gave President Bush the authority to decline to spend the money.

China has denied using any coercive measures in its population control. The Population Fund provides maternal health care and family planning services to women around the world. It says one of its goals is to get women to use voluntary family planning to avoid abortion.

The groups that signed the letter to Bush on Wednesday included the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc.; Advocates for Youth; Catholics for a Free Choice; the Center for Health and Gender Equity, and the Women's Environment and Development Organization.


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