NEW YORK—After spending 15 years in Missouri as a salesman, Austin Ruse decided he wanted to “do something for God.”
Two years later, after a stint writing and editing for Catholic publications, he heard about a new pro-life, United Nations monitoring organization, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (CFHRI), and immediately realized that he had found his calling.
“It was as if I heard a bell clearly ringing and I answered,” the deputy director of the three-month-old CFHRI said in a recent interview. “We are here to monitor, report upon, and try to affect population control initiatives coming out of the United Nations. This is one of the biggest places to advance our pro-life, pro-family cause.”
The institute, a non-profit, non-governmental agency not officially recognized by the United Nations, set up headquarters in August in U.N. Plaza and began making waves.
The institute's two full-time employees and six volunteers— operating out of a cramped two-room suite—wasted no time leveling criticism against a number of U.N. organizations and other related agencies such as UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund), for what the institute calls a disregard for the family.
“We support the legitimate efforts of the United Nations,” Ruse said. “We are pro-U.N., but in its founding documents it's difficult to find anywhere some of the radical things coming out of the organization in recent years. In the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights the basic building block of any society is the family.”
After gaining support from the Holy See as well as pro-life congressmen such as Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the institute has taken issue with UNICEF for the “very aggressive position they have taken in Third World countries in regard to contraception,” Ruse said.
“A year ago, the Vatican took their symbolic donation out of UNICEF for those reasons and it caused quite a stir,” he said. CFHRI reminded the press, Catholic parents, and others of the Vatican's action and urged people to think twice before contributing to UNICEF's traditional Halloween collection.
But Charles Lyons, the president of the U.S. Committee for UNICEF said that his organization's family planning policy is rooted in safe motherhood and responsible parenthood, not abortion or providing contraceptives.
“What was frustrating and damaging to us was that it was construed by the Holy See that our policy regarding family planning had changed, and they cited allegations of policy violations at the individual country level,” he said. “We are a decentralized organization working in 140 countries. This is not to excuse anyone for not following policy, but is conceivable that someone might have perceived that an individual UNICEF organization was not following policy. If that is the case we would be concerned and would track that down.”
Lyons said that the “symbol” of the Vatican's $2,000 yearly contribution led to the immunization of children and, in some cases, the cessation of hostilities in some parts of the world to reach those children.
“We very much value and want the partnership of the Church,” he said. “We have had very open lines to the Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations and must and will continue to discuss our different perceptions and any reports of violations in the hope of working together with the Vatican again.”
What had caused more controversy, however, is the CFHRI's allegations that several U.N. agencies, such as the High Commission for Refugees (HCR) and the U.N. Population Fund have collaborated on a field manual for relief workers in emergency situations that “explicitly promotes contraception and surgical and chemical abortions,” said Ruse.
“The manual, yet to be released, would make the promotion of these procedures mandatory with no conscience clause,” he said. “We, along with Congressman Smith and the Holy See received a very detailed briefing on this from a confidential informant and were preparing to go public with it.”
Ruse declined to name his informant, other than saying it was someone “on the inside.” He did say that the informant has since told the institute that the agencies preparing the manual will delete the mandatory abortion section.
Officials from the Population Fund, UNICEF, and the HCR denied all of the institute's charges and responded angrily to the new organization.
“We do not provide abortions in refugee camps, nor do we have any plans to do so,” HCR spokeswoman Marie Okabe wrote in a press release responding to the institute's allegations. “In fact, the United Nations does not provide support for abortions or abortion-related activities anywhere in the world.”
The manual in question is the outcome of The International Agency Symposium of Reproductive Health in Refugee Situations, which took place in June 1995. At the symposium, about 50 governmental and non-governmental institutions agreed that the international community must care for the reproductive health needs of refugees, displaced persons and others in conflict, wrote Okabe.
The manual's principles concerning all reproductive health activities reads as follows: “Reproductive health care should be available in all situations and be based on refugees, particularly women's needs and expressed demands, with full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of the refugees, in conformity with universally recognized human rights.”
Alex Marshell, the U.N. Population Fund chief of media services called the institute's allegations a “complete mis-statement.”
“The only thing worse than being a refugee is being a pregnant refugee,” he said. “If possible, woman who don't want to be pregnant should not be pregnant. This is part of an agenda [by pro-life groups such as CFHRI] that is really trying to deprive women of family planning. It has nothing to do with abortions.”
Ruse, however, said that the promotion of family planning and population control by world bodies were only “euphemisms for abortion.”
“It is a good thing that international agencies bring food, clothing, shelter, and medicine to the suffering people of the world,” he said. “But those hands that feed and clothe should not also be bringing death in the form of contraception and abortion.”
Ruse said that the institute was formed out of the sense among pro-life and pro-family groups around the world who regularly monitor U.N. international conferences that there was no permanent “watcher group” for their cause.
“We are the creature of the desire of a larger pro-family world to have a place to meet and work on these issues every day,” he said.
More than 5,000 people around the world make contributions to the institute. A website and regular mailing list are expected soon, said Ruse. The institute already issues a weekly bulletin of population control issues being discussed at the United Nations.
“We have hit the ground running,” Ruse said. “It's easy to be busy at the U.N., because there is so much going on.”
Dan Szczesny is based in Princeton, N.J.