There is always a temptation for pro-lifers to place the blame for the success of the abortion agenda on whoever is its most visible promoter. And if the perceived target is big and intangible, a little bit hard to understand and apparently irrelevant to a regular American’s daily life, the temptation is even greater. But before an attack is mounted, it’s worth it to ask what role the United Nations plays in the reproductive rights agenda – the agenda that has as its goal the promotion of abortion and population control as essential to guaranteeing the rights of women. The purpose of this article is twofold: first, to point out that the UN isn’t one entity trying to control the U.S. or any other country, and two, that the U.S. is responsible for creating and driving the international agendas that are so abhorrent to pro-lifers.
The UN is a structure constituted by many different actors with varying degrees of power and influence. It is incoherent to say that “the UN is pushing this” or “the UN is forcing the U.S. to do this.” There is no such monolithic entity acting in a singular, coherent way to influence Member State politics. There are certainly UN agencies and collections of Member States that push agendas with powerful influence over countries, but one cannot say that “the UN” will control the economy or become a world government. The delegate from Senegal trying to support his country’s position respecting unborn life is just as much a part of the UN as the head of the UNFPA. Indeed, today at the UN there are clear divisions between those who support “reproductive rights” (abortion on demand) and those who don’t, and it is uncertain which group is winning this battle of ideas.
The battle over abortion takes place within the boundaries of seemingly neutral topics: maternal and reproductive health, the rights of the child, population and development, sustainable development and the rights of youth. Battle lines are often drawn over the meaning of phrases like “reproductive rights,” or “reproductive health services.” Negotiations at key conferences last well into the night as (for the most part) developing countries attempt to reject proposals by the European Union and the United States which subtly seek to expand access to abortion worldwide. As of late, developing countries have been successful in their efforts, with some UN agency representatives and pro-choice NGOs admitting defeat at the 2011 Commissions on the Status of Women and Population and Development, and the High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS.
The deletion of parental rights is key for the reproductive rights agenda, as it would allow children and youth to access abortion without parental consent. Today, the “parental rights” side is clearly gaining important ground; the Resolution on the Rights of the Child has had stronger protections for parents every year, and there has been more mention as of late of the important role family plays in preventing HIV transmission in young people.
The point of all this is to say that there is room for pro-life work at the United Nations. People opposed to the reproductive rights agenda can and should get involved, not by pointing out the problems with “the UN” but by strategizing with developing countries, creating language proposals, using existing texts to defend important ideas, presenting alternative visions of reproductive and maternal health and most importantly, encouraging the U.S. to stop promoting population control and abortion internationally.
The United States has a lot of power over the interpretation and implementation of resolutions and decisions at the UN. This influence is used to pressure other countries into accepting population control and abortion as a human right. This pressure is not new, and despite some brief respites during the Reagan and Bush tenures, it has been the single biggest driving force (both monetarily and morally) behind the movement to control the populations of developing countries. If we talk about the failure of “the UN,” then we need to acknowledge what entities are driving the failure – the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) (funded in large part by the U.S. for the purposes of exporting population control initiatives worldwide), and their accomplices at the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which came into existence and continues its work due to American benefactors like the Rockefellers and the Gates. And I would be remiss not to mention Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who led the U.S. delegation to the Beijing +5 conference in 2000 with the goal of making abortion an international human right under the guise of “women’s rights.” She now has more power than ever to make her vision a reality at home and abroad.
The U.S. doesn’t need protection from an overreaching UN; the U.S. is the overreaching party. What began in the 1970s under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (his NSSM 200 report identified developing countries whose populations needed to be controlled to protect U.S. interests) continues to this day. It is almost an accepted truth that population control is necessary for development and that it’s our job to help poor countries have fewer children. That this understanding has stagnated development and succeeded in legalizing abortion around the world is not the fault of the UN entity itself; it’s the fault of the major actors who have something at stake and pull out all the stops to ensure that their interests are protected. Pro-lifers would do well to acknowledge that the U.S. is one of these actors. This would be a first step towards properly directed activism.