Sauerbrey's plans draw opposition

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- Assistant Secretary of State Ellen R. Sauerbrey, whose socially conservative views came in for scrutiny when President Bush picked her for the diplomatic post, is being criticized for her plan to speak at a conference in Poland for opponents of abortion and same-sex marriage.

Nineteen members of the European Parliament have asked Sauerbrey to reconsider her scheduled appearance at the World Congress of Families next month in Warsaw.

The members of the European Parliamentary Working Group on Separation of Religion and Politics say that several people scheduled to speak at the three-day conference have taken positions that clash with the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.

In a letter to Sauerbrey, they point to Roman Catholic Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, who suggested that condoms were of limited use against the spread of HIV - comments that were swiftly condemned by the World Health Organization - and Steven W. Mosher, whose Population Research Institute says that Muslims and other immigrants are contributing to the "demographic destruction" of Europe.

The opening address is to be given by Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who has called homosexuals "perverts" and who has been accused by Human Rights Watch of sanctioning "official homophobia."

Proinsias De Rossa, a member of the European Parliament from Ireland, called Sauerbrey's participation in the forum "a diplomatic faux pas."

"What is being promoted by this congress in Poland is directly contrary to the values which the European Union has been promoting for some time, which is tolerance and diversity and inclusion," he said.

Sauerbrey was in Geneva and not available for comment, said State Department spokesman Peter Eisenhauer.

He defended Sauerbrey's plan to attend the May 11-13 conference, saying, "The administration continues to believe that all people should be treated with dignity and respect. The focus of this conference is the vital role of family to society. Questions about the views of other speakers should be addressed to those speakers."

The conservative social views of Sauerbrey, a former Maryland delegate who came within 6,000 votes of becoming governor in 1994, were an area of contention after Bush chose her in 2005 to become assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration.

Abortion-rights groups opposed her nomination, noting her attempt, as U.S. representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, to remove abortion rights from a U.N. declaration on equal rights for women.

The nomination stalled, and Bush gave her the job without Senate approval. That recess appointment will expire when Congress adjourns at the end of this year, and she will have to give up the post unless the Senate confirms her.

Next month's fourth World Congress of Families is to include sessions on "the mother in the home and the new economics," "the attack on marriage as the union of woman and man" and "beyond the contraceptive mentality."

Scheduled speakers include representatives of James Dobson's conservative Christian group Focus on the Family and the Discovery Institute, the principal organization behind the promotion of the "intelligent design" concept.

"We're seeking to be a rallying point for persons who defend what we call the natural family," said Allan C. Carlson, president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, which organized the conference, "that are concerned about family trends around the world that we think both hurt children and also hurt the prospects of nations to be successful, prosperous and happy places."

Catholics for a Free Choice, a Washington group that supports abortion rights, also has called on Sauerbrey to withdraw from the Warsaw event. President Jon O'Brien described several of the participants as "on the margins of the margins" of the anti-abortion movement.

"Many respectable people who hold different views about [abortion] than my own would not be seen at a meeting like this," O'Brien said. "That's what makes it disturbing, that a leader in this Bush administration who has responsibility for sensitive issues [would] be seen to be giving her backing. Her presence in one way or another gives an official stamp of approval to this fringe meeting."

Sauerbrey also participated in the third World Congress of Families, held in Mexico City in 2004, when she was U.S. representative to the U.N. commission on the Status of Women and spoke about the United Nations and family planning.

Carlson rejected O'Brien's characterization of the conference.

"These are not extreme people," he said. "They're advocates with a point of view. But it's one compatible, I think, with a majority of the world's people.

"I think we are dealing with minority, apparently anti-religious, voices here."

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