National Catholic Register


Eliminating the Poor

BY Jim Cosgrove

February 28-March 6, 1999 Issue | Posted 2/28/99 at 2:00 PM


The U.N. Population Forum in The Hague ended Feb. 12 with little media fanfare. Next will come a concluding document from the Forum which will advocate abortion and sterilization as a “solution” to poverty, and confer the prestige of the U.N. on the latest definitions of “family.” Ideas concocted by first-world intellectuals will be urged on Third World nations that would reject the ideology if they didn't need the money so badly.

In short, the policies and attitudes which comprise what Pope John Paul II has called the culture of death have quietly won a victory. That victory will either become final or turn to defeat in March meetings when member nations shape and vote on a final, binding document.

The latest battle shows that population-control forces learned a lot since the U.N. Population Conference in Cairo in 1994. Then, Planned Parenthood and other groups made their agendas very clear: they wanted to alleviate poverty by reducing the strain on the food supply. They wanted fewer people. Such a “commitment to eliminate poverty could be confused with that of eliminating the poor,” said Monsignor Frank Dewane, Holy See observer, in remarks at The Hague. The Vatican successfully opposed those agendas in Cairo, with the cooperation of representatives from countries targeted for downsizing. At the time, it was a victory.

But conference organizers did a clever thing. They set a process in place that would revisit the U.N. directives after a five-year review. That gave the U.N. Population Fund and other population control advocates time to prepare for a final push, and time for the issue to die down in the media.

What resulted was a professional, polite, and closed-minded “Cairo + 5” Forum which received virtually no media attention and which may end up producing devastating results.

In 1994 at Cairo, the United Nations faced a high-profile confrontation that pitted anti-population bureaucrats against respectable representatives of traditional morality from the Third World and the Catholic Church. They lost. At The Hague in 1999, they made sure that same story line didn't get out.

This time around, pro-life journalists reported receiving strange treatment. They were kept under unusually close scrutiny by polite U.N. staff security guards. Mary Jo Anderson of Crisis and John Mallon of Inside the Vatican and the Register were made to know that they, and others, were “problem” reporters who were being watched. U.N. press operatives also refused to help pro-life journalists arrange interviews with U.N. officials — a service that they provided to secular reporters. One Muslim reporter who complained about being denied press access was physically bullied by a guard, according to a complaint he filed with the U.N.

It is obvious why they received such treatment. The Catholic Church (with its allies) is identified by the U.N. Population Fund as one of the “obstacles” to its population control policies. And the fund is becoming increasingly press-savvy: in its printed materials, it asked organizations who support its work to stop referring to “population control” and to speak instead about “economic development” in their remarks.

The very structure of the conference was meant to present a smiling face to the world. It began with a three-day youth extravaganza, a spirited photo opportunity that gave the forum an air of multicultural vigor. The forum ended with formal, dull presentations that the press avoided.

In between these events were two days' worth of presentations by “educational” organizations. In these, star billing was given to the population control groups, while pro-life groups such as the Knights of Columbus of Canada were denied a chance to speak.

Frances Kissling, whose organization Catholics for a Free Choice is noteworthy for its opposition to Church teaching and for its small size, was given two opportunities to address delegates, and therefore became the most prominent voice meant to represent Catholics at the forum. Meanwhile, the Arrow for Change, the conference's on-site publication, featured offensive cartoons of the Pope.

Thus, the population control crowd covered itself where it had been weak before. By tightly controlling “opposition” press, reframing its work in economic terms, and carefully selecting its speakers, it was able to do quietly and respectably what Cairo's noise prevented.

As a result, the forum's final document is replete with radical notions of “reproductive and sexual rights.” One directive urges access to abortion and contraception to children who “demand them.”

The Holy See, for its part, has played its hand very carefully. It made the Church's position clear with strong words — “The ability of a woman to make decisions is not dependent on the reduction of her fertility but on the level of her education,” said Monsignor Dewane. But it kept its contingent small, as if it smelled a setup and decided not to play along. Perhaps the Holy See and the rest of the Catholic contingent are saving their firepower for the real showdown at the United Nations meeting in New York that begins March 22.

There, delegates will decide how much money from American paychecks ought to be earmarked for practices and policies that many Catholics, Muslims, and Orthodox Jews abhor. It will not be easy. First lady Hillary Clinton promised the forum that the Clinton administration would do all it can to restore the $25 million assessment Cairo made on the United States. Congress, arguing that the money would aid and abet the forced abortion policies of China and other such human rights abuses, refused to pay that money last time. The fight will be harder now.

Its outcome may depend on how well Catholics take up the battle, as the Pope did in Cairo five years ago.

This is, after all, what the U.N. Population Fund fears. Whether the voice of truth will go unheard this time around, remains to be seen.