Last week the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) hosted its annual population award ceremony at the United Nations (UN) to honor an individual and an organization for “outstanding” work in the population field, including family planning. This year’s honorees were abortion advocates Dame Billie Miller in the individual category and New York-based Family Care International (FCI) in the institutional.
In an elaborate ceremony at UN headquarters, guests were greeted with performances by the New York Symphonic Orchestra and the UN staff choir. Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Kiyotaka Akasaka presented the awards on behalf of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Reading Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, Akasaka lauded both Billie Miller and FCI for their “significant contributions” which, he asserted, had allowed countless people “to plan pregnancies, avoid recourse to unsafe abortion, practice responsible sexual behavior, and prevent the spread of HIV.”
UNFPA executive director Thoraya Obaid lauded Dame Billie Miller’s “exemplary achievements as a tireless advocate, policy maker, change agent and role model for policies on gender, sexual and reproductive health, including family planning.” Miller is a well-known fixture at the UN as a past president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region, and has served as Chair of the NGO Planning Committee for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). In her acceptance speech, Miller mentioned several career “highlights” in her work to promote “sexual and reproductive rights,” including the decriminalization of abortion in her home country of Barbados.
Ann Starrs, president of FCI, accepted the institutional award on behalf of the organization. FCI was praised by the committee for its work to reduce maternal mortality and to promote safe motherhood and sexual and reproductive health for adolescents. The committee also praised FCI’s pivotal role in planning and hosting last year’s Women Deliver conference in London. In her acceptance speech, Starrs touted Women Deliver for its role in bringing the issue of maternal mortality to the forefront, though many critics blasted Women Deliver for its extensive focus on abortion. According to Spanish pro-family advocate Lola Velarde, the then president of FCI, Jill Sheffield, dismissed her concerns that Women Deliver did not adequately address practical solutions to reduce maternal mortality — namely providing skilled birth attendants and emergency obstetric care — by saying, “You’re wasting my time.”
2008 marks the silver jubilee of the UN population awards. Past recipients include other abortion advocates such as Nafis Sadik, former head of UNFPA, and Fred Sai, chair of the ICPD conference held in Cairo in 1994 and FCI’s current chairman of the board, as well as the International Planned Parenthood Federation. One of the awards’ most controversial past recipients was Qian Xinzhong, who as minister of China’s State Family Planning Commission was responsible for overseeing China’s draconian one-child policy, which included forced abortion and mandatory sterilization.
Algeria, Bangladesh, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Iran, Malaysia, Peru, Sweden and Tanzania currently comprise the awards committee, with UNFPA serving as the administrator. Nominations for next year’s laureates are being accepted by the committee.