They came from every continent and many countries. There were more than 30 speakers with a very specific purpose: the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights, family planning, universal contraceptive use, and abortion. Shockingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, there was a vicious attack on the Roman Catholic Church by an embittered Dutchman, Nicholaas Biegman who had been the Vice Chairman of the ICPD1 in 1994.
As reported in my email on Friday, Biegman
started his remarks by voicing his “disappointment with religious leaders” and how “they stand in the way of eliminating poverty.” Then he mentioned ONLY the Roman Catholic Church and the fact that it has a presence at the UN that puts it on an “equal footing” with countries where it can exercise influence. “Now in Rome there is a new Pope,” Pope Francis, who is “modest, sincere . . . and has shown concern for the poor and underprivileged” . . . and it “must be frustrating for him.” The Church “carries the responsibility for the root causes of poverty” . . . and “does all it can to prevent the means of family planning.” As the Church struggles . . . “the unmet need for family planning affects millions of couples.” Today many Catholics “ignore the teachings of the Church but many take them seriously.” The Church “exerts political pressure in many countries” and here he referred to an earlier speaker from the Philippines, Janette Garin [Vice Minister of Health], who had criticized the Church for opposing the “14-year struggle” for abortion in her country.
Biegman went on to say that the Church is “putting the quantity of life over the quality of life” . . . and at this point he was interrupted by the moderator who asked him to come up with a solution to the problem he had raised. Biegman replied that he was appealing to the Holy Father to try to solve this problem as far as the Roman Catholic Church is concerned. He concluded by saying: “Pope Francis has an opportunity to make a contribution. May God inspire him to make good use of this opportunity!”
There followed long and sustained applause from virtually the entire EcoSoc Chamber where the meeting was held.
A frail Dr. Fred Sai from Ghana, the Chairman of the ICPD Conference in 1994, praised both Biegman and Nafis Sadik, the first head of UNFPA, as a woman “who came to change the world.” He lamented “30 million unplanned births,” pockets of high fertility in some African countries, and added that not putting reproductive health and rights in the MDGs “has cost us dearly.” Sai also picked up on a new mantra, reportedly originating with USAID, which states that every dollar spent on reproductive health represents a saving of $6 in the future. (No explanation was given.) He ended by saying that going forward the reproductive agenda has to be at the top of the development agenda and the world must “move away from anachronistic” cultural and other beliefs. He received a standing ovation from the entire audience (minus one!) and he was deemed “inspirational” by Babatunde Osotimehin, the head of UNFPA who chaired the three-hour event.
Predilection for speakers who are from mainly Catholic countries, make up their own “catholic” beliefs and who openly criticize and work/lobby against the consistently life-affirming Roman Catholic Church beliefs steadfastly espoused by the Holy See Mission at the UN, was openly manifest at this event.Another person within this group was the former President of Mozambique, Joachim Chissano (1986-2005), who said that 53 million in Africa wanted contraceptives; “comprehensive sex-education protects young people”; reproductive health and rights were “controversial” because “everyone interprets that his own way.” He also issued an appeal to African leaders over sexual orientation and questioned whether it was a “choice or reality.” He indicated he was Catholic, but disagreed with Church teachings that “criminalize” homosexuality. Chissano had difficulty reading his presentation and stopped several times to shuffle his papers, which evidently were out of order.
There were four “youth representatives”—glaringly from Planned Parenthood central casting—who reiterated the same message uttered by similar youth at similar venues: demand for sexual and reproductive health and rights, the right to privacy, and the right to be free of parental consent regarding their sexual behavior.
Also speaking at this event was the Vice Minister of Health of Uruguay, Leonel Briozzo. Under the current administration of President Jose Alberto Mujica, the country liberalized a series of laws that include legalization of marijuana and abortion on demand (as of 2012), apparently the first such legislation in Latin America. The Vice Minister praised the end of a struggle of many years to make all this possible. It would appear that Uruguay is being sort of “rewarded” by the UN for such “progress” by having been designated for the Chairmanship of this year’s week-long meeting of the Commission on Population and Development starting today (April 7)!
—Vincenzina Santoro is the United Nations Representative for the American Family Association of New York.
 ICPD = International Conference on Population and Development which took place in Cairo in 1994.