UN Pro-Life Lobbying: Full Contact Sport

Article excerpt

Last March more than 800,000 ethnic Albanians crossed the border between Kosovo and Albania. Running from Serb soldiers and NATO bombs, the refugees settled into camps organized hastily all over Albania-in schools, churches, abandoned factories, and tents put up in fields. The whole world watched as frightened, wounded, hungry refugees reached out for help. And just about the whole world responded, including a UN agency called the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

UNFPA is a $295-million-a-year agency dedicated to population control or, as it is now euphemistically known, "reproductive rights." In the early days of the emergency, what the refugees desperately needed was food and medicine. However, UNFPA's one and only response was to send enough "reproductive health kits" to last 350,000 people in the field for six months. These packages of contraceptive devices included something called a "manual vacuum aspirator," used for performing abortions in the field.

At the request of the Population Research Institute (PRI), I traveled to Albania to investigate charges of human-rights abuses being committed in the name of "reproductive rights." The concern was that the refugee women were being coerced into sterilizations and even abortions. This type of abuse goes on all over the world and generally involves bribing women with food or medicine, while not fully informing them of all the complications of these procedures. With the highest birth-rate in Europe, the Kosovar women are a juicy target for the population-control ideologues at UNFPA and its aggressive field partners, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and Marie Stopes International.

For eight days last June, I traveled with an Albanian translator and a driver over what must be the worst roads in Europe. We traveled into the far north, to a mostly Catholic town called Durres, and into the far south, to a town on the warm Ionian Sea called Vlora. Over this eight-day period I visited more than a dozen camps and interviewed more than a hundred refugees and aid workers.

I discovered some good news and some bad news.

First, UNFPA seems to be something of a paper tiger. While it has lots of money to spread around and is able to reach out and intimidate governments, it is basically a "headquarters" operation and does not have the personnel to run many programs on the ground. I discovered a small and only marginally motivated staff in the Albanian capital of Tirana. The staff seemed only occasionally to have left their comfy offices.

However, UNFPA must rely on partners to run its population-control programs, which allows it a great deal of "deniability." UNFPA, for instance, insists that its manual vacuum aspirators are only for assisting at live births or for completing botched abortions. Yet the head of the Vlora office of the Albanian Family Planning Association, a part of IPPF, told me they were used "only for abortion" When confronted with this, UNFPA spokesmen say they cannot be held responsible for the way their partners use UNFPA equipment.

In the eight days I was there, I discovered only one case that could be considered an abuse. A peasant woman in Vlora had been given an abortion at the government's regional hospital and not been told of the negative medical consequences to her. As to bribes with food and medicine, I saw none. Except for the earliest days of the crisis, the country was awash in assistance. The streets and highways were clogged with new white all-terrain vehicles belonging to governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and intergovernmental agencies. In this situation, women did not have to bargain away their fertility for food or medicine.

And their need would have to be great, for I discovered almost no interest among the Kosovar women in the "reproductive health" technologies of UNFPA and its partners. Kosovars remain committed, at least for now, to large families. …