Three thousand abortion advocates packed into the Washington, DC Convention Center this week for the Women Deliver 2 conference, a meeting aimed at increasing funding and government accountability for maternal mortality reduction strategies, including access to “safe abortion.” While organizers closed the conference amid applause and cheers from a half-empty auditorium, outcomes fell far short of the ambitious funding goals set by organizers in the months leading up to the conference.
Women Deliver brought together United Nations (UN) agencies like the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Health Organization and prominent abortion organizations like Ipas, International Planned Parenthood Federation, and Catholics for Choice, to call for an additional $12 billion USD a year in funding and to galvanize political support.
By the end of the conference the only significant new income came from the $1.5 billion USD initiative launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Political participation was similarly underwhelming. Unlike the original conference in London in 2007, Women Deliver 2 failed to produce a government document, though parliamentarians and government ministers were sequestered in closed-door meetings for much of the conference.
The lack of official participation from the United States was also noted by participants. In 2007, an official congressional delegation went to the London conference. This year, there was no American delegation in attendance even though the conference took place less than a mile from the US House of Representatives.
In the wake of the University of Washington study published in The Lancet in April which contradicted UN statistics and showed a significant decrease in maternal mortality, UNFPA executive director Thoraya Obaid told her staffers that the organization “must speak with one voice.”
At a UNFPA staff briefing the day before the opening of the conference, Obaid circulated a briefing book of talking points to staffers which they were directed to use in speaking to the public and press during the conference. Obtained by the Friday Fax, the UNFPA briefing book downplayed the discrepancy in maternal mortality figures, taking the position that “estimates are estimates,” and maintained the call for the additional $12 billion per annum in funding to “fulfill the unmet need for family planning.”
Unchanged from the 2007 conference were attacks on religion, particularly the Catholic Church, and the “Religious Right” as major obstacles to the “reproductive rights” agenda. At one session, Monica Roa, the abortion activist who helped liberalize Colombia’s abortion law in 2006, warned of threats posed to pending abortion litigation in the form of “well-funded” and “better educated” up-and-coming lawyers from schools like Ave Maria School of Law.
Indeed, Women Deliver 2 organizers were careful to shut down any opposition. On the last day, the National Right to Life Federation (NRLF) stood outside the convention center handing out bags emblazoned with the slogan “Celebrate Motherhood” to conference-goers. The bags contained fetal models and information on proven maternal mortality reduction strategies. Desperate to shut out any pro-life messages, security guards and conference staffers barred the front entrance, demanded to look inside conference-goers parcels and confiscated the offending bags right out of the hands of individuals, despite objections. Stunned by the actions of the conference staff, one NRTLF volunteer rhetorically asked “Isn’t this supposed to be a conference to help mothers?”