The United Nations (UN) committee responsible for vetting applications of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for official status began its latest session this week. The committee is slated to consider the Mexican affiliate of “Catholics” for a Free Choice – now called as Catholics for Choice (CFC) – an abortion advocacy organization which has worked hard to get the Holy See stripped of its UN observer status.
Established in 1994, Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir (CDD) was one of the lead advocates for liberalizing Mexico City’s abortion law. When Mexico City loosened its law to allow abortion up to the twelfth week of pregnancy, CDD director María Consuelo Mejía said “this achievement marks the beginning of a process for women to have real access to safe and legal abortion services and to exercise their right to decide.”
The main “Catholics” for Choice website describes its Mexican counterpart as an organization which offers “liberating” Catholic positions on sexuality and “reproductive health.” CFC praises its sister organization’s work in Mexico on the abortion and contraception issue since it “reflects the diversity of perspectives that exist within Catholicism, especially on the topics of reproductive rights, sexuality, and women’s roles.”
If approved for NGO status, critics anticipate that CDD will bring the same kind of abortion advocacy and criticism of the Holy See to the UN. “Catholics” for Choice has been a UN accredited NGO since 1998 and made a name for itself by breaking the longstanding UN protocol which prohibits NGOs from attacking individual UN member states. CFC launched the unsuccessful “See Change” campaign which called for the Holy See’s UN status to be downgraded from that of a non-member State with Permanent Observer Status to that of a non-governmental organization.
The 19-member NGO committee is a subcommittee of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), one of five principal organs of the UN which approves and governs participation of all UN NGOs. The NGO Committee uses various criteria to recommend official status. Official UN recognition of an NGO allows the group to gain access to UN property and to participate in UN negotiations. UN NGOs range widely from service groups like the Red Cross that carry out UN programs to policy groups like the Center for Reproductive Rights that lobby the UN on particular issues.
Debates within the NGO accrediting committee meetings over applications from homosexual rights groups have become increasingly heated in the last few years. While the ECOSOC council almost always accepts subcommittee recommendations, it has overturned at least two of the NGO Committee’s recommendations in order to accredit homosexual rights groups.
Along with Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir, the NGO Committee will also review an application from the Organisation Suisse des Lesbiennes and revisit applications from two gay rights groups that were deferred last year, the Swiss-based LESTIME, or Communauté lesbienne de Genève and Brazil’s Associação Brasileira de Gays, Lésbicas e Transgêneros.