NEW YORK—Delegates from the United States, Canada and Western Europe came to the “Cairo+5” meetings at the United Nations headquarters here intending to make the rules on world population control.
But the Vatican, along with a coalition of Muslim and developing countries, stopped many of their efforts at the conference, which was originally scheduled for June 24-29.
At press time, the meetings were still under way, pitting an active and record sized pro-family lobby, including a new contingent of youth (see Page 7), against the most powerful nations in the world.
At stake in the debate was the U.N. Population Fund's Program of Action that was agreed to five years ago at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt.
Holy See adviser John Klink, an American, told the Register that delegates from the United States, Canada, the European Union, and Norway remain determined to make “reproductive and sexual health” the centerpiece of every discussion on population and development.
Delegates have been gathering on and off since January to review progress since Cairo and recommend initiatives for implementing Cairo's directives. Once completed, the plan will be submitted to the U.N. General Assembly and likely rubber-stamped for action. Since no changes were to be made to the original program, the conferences were expected to move swiftly.
In one early move in the June meeting, Muslim nations like Libya and Egypt, pro-life lobbyists, and the Vatican aggressively countered proposals that would give children as young as 10 U.N.-backed “sexual reproductive rights.” By midweek of the June preparatory meetings, the provision for emergency contraceptives was no longer a point of discussion. The debate then focused on parental rights.
At one point in the meetings, Klink locked horns with U.S. delegate Margaret Pollack during a tense round of deliberations over the question of whether to include the reference to parental rights and responsibilities. Klink said the Holy See would not budge on the point.
A compromise was eventually reached which “was basically acceptable in that one reference,” said Austin Ruse, director of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, a pro-life lobby. “But overall, parental rights in the document died, and this was led by the U.S.”
In his defense of the parental rights language before the U.N. delegates, Klink focused on the responsibilities that parents have in directing the religious and moral education of children.
When U.S. delegate Pollack proposed deleting the sentence on parental rights, Klink quoted from speeches made recently by her boss, President Clinton, on the irreplaceable and invaluable role that parents have in guiding and nurturing their children. Groans filled the crowded conference room as he read Clinton's words.
“We have worked at great length over the last several months to ensure that this is not simply a conference on population issues, but, as its title not only implies but mandates, a conference on population and development,” Klink said. “In that very title is reflected the social teaching of the Church — that your major goal should be the development of peoples in every way: spiritually, economically, and socially.”
A Western Agenda?
For years, Vatican insiders and pro-life lobbyists feared that population control groups like the U.N. Population Fund and International Planned Parenthood were taking steps toward naming abortion as a “fundamental human right,” but lacked the evidence to prove it.
They say their suspicions were confirmed, however, during the original Cairo convention in 1994 when a private communication that was issued from then Secretary of State Warren Christopher's office to U.S. embassies abroad was leaked to pro-life delegates.
The communication made it clear that the Clinton administration wished to pursue the goal of making abortion a universal fundamental human right, Klink told the Register. And pro-life delegations have been increasingly vigilant ever since.
Pollack wouldn't confirm that the United States had any intention of promoting a universal right to abortion. “That's not what we're here to discuss,” she told the Register.
During a recess at the Cairo+5 conference, Planned Parenthood Director-General Ingar Brueggemann would not say whether her organization, with U.N. help, intended to make abortion a universal human right.
“I can only tell you what our position is,” Brueggemann told the Register. “Abortion is not a means of family planning. Abortion is what anyone, with everything possible, should try to prevent, in order to allow women to have access to contraception so that it doesn't lead to an unwanted or risky pregnancy.”
“However, if there is a case where for all sorts of reasons — whether it was rape or it was unwanted or it was a failure of contraception, then, where it is legal, women should at least have a chance to have a safe abortion,” Brueggemann said.
Asked about statistics which suggesting that wherever abortion is legalized, the number of abortions rises fivefold, Brueggemann replied, “I doubt that,” adding, “that could be an interim phase.”
Jean Head, of National Right to Life in New York, pointed out that the statistics come from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood's research arm.
”In most countries,” according to a study published in 1994, “it is common after abortion is legalized for abortion rates to sharply increase for several years … just as we have seen in the U.S.”
Brueggemann “must not read her own organization's literature,” said Head.
The Next Step
Like many of the pro-life lobbyists at the United Nations building during the June meetings, Head began her career never intending to be involved in international diplomacy. She delivered babies for over 40 years before becoming involved in U.N. efforts.
Now, she is eager to see changes made in international rules.
Exhausted from late night strategizing at the Cairo+5 conference, she took some time out to explain why it is so crucial for the pro-life effort to step up efforts inform Third World delegates of the real intentions of the U.N. Population Fund and International Planned Parenthood.
“Many countries don't make these conferences a priority,” Head said. “They have laws against abortion which they don't think can be overridden. I tell them what happened in the U.S. [with Roe v. Wade]. If the U.N. declared abortion a fundamental human right, non-governmental organizations would be able to bypass the sovereignty of nations, just as the Roe decision … [was able] to bypass state's rights.”
Brian McGuire writes from Washington, D.C.