NEW YORK — In early March, the United States and the Holy See fought a lonely battle at the United Nations against pro-abortion activists with only the vocal support of a handful of pro-life non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Another abortion battle at the United Nations now looms, and could prove even lonelier for the United States and the Holy See due to maneuvering by U.N. officials.

Pro-life non-governmental organizations were barred from speaking to or lobbying member states at the recent preparatory talks for the upcoming Millennium Summit +5, which will be held in September. Yet, pro-abortion groups, such as International Planned Parenthood Federation, the National Youth Network for Reproductive Rights and Family Care International, were welcomed.

“The U.N. generally allows NGOs to sit in on these things and press their cause with delegates,” said Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. “The new tactic is to exclude all NGOs and force them to apply. The U.N. can then hand-pick the ones it wants to participate.

“Whereas other strategies have failed to silence the pro-life voice,” Ruse added, “this one may have been successful.”

Ruse believes the United Nations changed its approach to non-governmental organizations because officials there are uncomfortable with the success the pro-life movement has had in its lobbying efforts. As an example of one such success, Ruse cited the fight at the two-week session of the Commission on the Status of Women, or Beijing+10, held in March.

The United States, with the support of the Holy See and a handful of pro-life non-governmental organizations, proposed an amendment to the Beijing document that sought to clarify that the Beijing Conference of 1995 did not create any new international human rights and did not include an alleged “right” to abortion.

Though member states did not support the amendment, they did not contest it either.

As Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey, U.S. Representative to the Commission on the Status of Women, summed up at the time, this meant that “based on consultations this week with states, we further understand that states do not understand the Beijing or Beijing+5 outcome documents to constitute support, endorsement, or promotion of abortion.”

Pro-life activists from around the world traveled to New York to work to educate member states on the original intent of the Beijing conference. Pro-life leaders credited them with influencing the outcome.

‘Very Concerned’

But this time, the United Nations made sure the pro-life view never entered the debate. Ruse reckoned that 10 or so pro-life non-governmental organizations applied to participate in the talks and were all turned down.

Officials at the U.N. press office did not respond to a request for comment.

Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, called the exclusion of the pro-life element from the preparatory talks “troubling.”

“We're very concerned about the situation,” he said, adding that officials from his office are “looking into the matter.” He declined to comment further, after adding they are in the process of “looking into the facts” and are “asking the right questions” about what happened.

A spokesman for the Holy See's mission to the United Nations, Father Vittorio Guerrera, said that the Holy See is concerned about the situation.

“As we are in an ongoing process of negotiations, it is not our policy to make any public statements at this time,” Father Guerrera said.

The original Millennium Summit, held in September of 2000, was considered as the U.N.'s way of taking stock of itself at the dawn of a new millennium. As Secretary General Kofi Annan wrote at the time, it was “an opportunity to strengthen the role of the United Nations in meeting the challenges of the 21st century.”

The document produced at that conference called on member states to renew their commitment to combat poverty, war, HIV/AIDS and pollution, and to defend the rights laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That document, written in 1948, made no mention of the “rights” to abortion and contraception.

But that “omission” is exactly what officials at the United Nations, certain member states and pro-abortion non-governmental organizations want to change, according to Ruse.

“The reason this didn't smell right is that one of the main themes in the run up to the millennium conference has been ‘reproductive rights,’ which were not part of the original goals of the millennium declaration,” he said.

Overshadows Intention

One pro-abortion group, Women's Environment & Development Organization, for example, in an informational guide on the Millennium Development Summit's goals, laments that the goals, as they were articulated five years ago, “do not represent the full vision of gender equity, equality and women's empowerment or poverty eradication and structural transformation. Chief among the gaps is the failure to include the issue of reproductive rights.”

Ruse said that the fixation by certain groups on “reproductive rights” overshadows the original intention behind the summit.

“These NGOs genuinely want to reduce poverty and promote education, all of which we support,” said Ruse. “But they also push to make abortion a universal “right.” It is being packaged as one of the most important goals of the Millennium Development Summit.”

The danger behind this lies not only in an attack on the right to life, according to Ruse, but also in an attack on national sovereignty. Though any documents produced at the Millennium Summit would technically be non-binding, they would nevertheless “be held by U.N. potentates as universal law.”

Eduardo Llull writes from New York City.