by Bishop James T. McHugh
July 2, 1999
The United Nations General Assembly gave three days last week to an appraisal of the implementation of the 1994 Cairo Population Conference. The three days were somewhat anti-climatic, coming at the end of almost 20 days of Preparatory Committee meetings. The report was supposed to have been written in an eight-day March meeting, but efforts led by the United States and the European Union (E.U.) to go beyond the Cairo consensus and to include abortion as an option prolonged the meetings endlessly.
The efforts of the U.S. and the E.U. were frustrated by a strong consensus among the developing nations to reject inclusion of "emergency contraception"( high dosage of birth control pills within 72 hours of intercourse). This mechanism may prevent ovulation; it may prevent fertilization--the joining of sperm and ovum-- but if fertilization has already occurred, it prevents the embryo from implanting in the mother's uterus. The United States delegation was relentless and less than fully honest about the abortifacient aspect of these chemicals in trying to override the Cairo Consensus; sadly, one more evidence of the Administration's unyielding commitment to promote abortion.
The New York Times' story on last week's meeting was a masterpiece of ignorance and arrogance. The Times claimed that "a comparatively small group of Roman Catholic and Muslin developing countries, with strong support from the Vatican, was blocking final agreement on several key aspects of the plan." This language is almost identical to charges made by Clare Short, Secretary for International Development in England, and which were reported simultaneously in the Guardian Society in London.
The New York Times reporter claims that "conservatives" were trying to play down the need for family planning, restrict abortion and assert greater parental control over sex education and provision of contraception and sterilization for children. In fact, these were the issues debated and decided at Cairo. But the developed nations continue to obstinately refuse to respect the Cairo consensus that abortion should not be encouraged and is not to be considered a method of birth control. At Cairo, and earlier in New York, developed nations showed a total disregard for the cultural traditions of Muslin countries and other developing nations in Africa and South America in regard to parental rights and concerns. It was a clear show of forcing "modern attitudes" down their throats. And it failed again and again.
The Times also reported that the small group was ignoring the Cairo consensus on limiting population growth. Cairo was far more nuanced than the Times admits. The Times either does not understand or is deliberately misleading people on population growth. The truth is that population growth rates have been declining steadily for the past two decades in almost all nations. At the present rates of decline, the actual numbers of people added to world population will begin to decline around 2020. The problem is not growth. It is declining work forces, aging populations and depleted financial resources to care for the elderly. Japan is a good example. A nation of great sexual permissiveness, availability of contraception and easy access to abortion. The result has been low birth rates and too small a work force. Today, even with an advanced economy, ensuring social security for the elderly in Japan is a major problem
But back to the U.N. where these facts are clear to all. The rantings of the British official, the open hostility of the UNFPA, the U.S. and the E.U. toward the Holy See and the misleading reporting of The New York Times had little or no effect. The majority of nations, especially the developing world, are properly suspicious and cautious in regard to the affluent power brokers. Family relations, the value of children, the need for development assistance, debt relief and access to first-world markets are the compelling issues for these nations. Archbishop Renato Martino, the Holy See's representative to the U.N., hit the nail on the head when he noted that "poverty reduction, access to basic social services, especially health care, education and security are the best tools for meeting the goals set at Cairo and bringing about sustainable development."
One more U.N. meeting comes to an end without consensus and without a clear vision of how to assure a future of equality, justice and peace. Contrary to Ms. Short and The New York Times, the Holy See has made a contribution by supporting the truth, speaking for the family and the unborn and demanding a new and equitable approach to sustainable development that benefits all nations and ensures world peace.
Bishop James T. McHugh, is Coadjutor Bishop of Rockville Centre, a member of the NCCB Committee for Pro-Life Activities, and an advisor on population issues to the Holy See's Mission to the United Nations.