Church, U.N. at Odds over Population Policy

By Lefevere, Patricia | National Catholic Reporter, April 15, 1994 | Go to article overview

Church, U.N. at Odds over Population Policy


Lefevere, Patricia, National Catholic Reporter


NEW YORK - The Roman Catholic Church became the focal point of disagreement here as it continues to object to major sections of a U.N document being negotiated here this month in preparation for the international Conference on Population and Development to be held in Cairo, Egypt, Sept. 5-13.

The church's reservations over sections of the 82-page final draft document dealing with population policy, family planning, human sexuality and reproductive rights drew sharp criticism April 5 from one official of the committee charged with drafting the paper. Some 180 national delegations are in New York April 4-22 to negotiate the document, which will set out 20-year goals for facing many of the world's most fundamental population, health, education and development challenges.

Drafters in two previous preparatory committee conferences have developed population policies with a central focus on women's reproductive health - a fact that drew adverse reaction from Pope John Paul II when he met the committee's secretary general Dr. Nafis Sadik at the Vatican last month.

The document further recognizes the sovereignty of each nation in setting population policy and says no person should be coerced directly or indirectly to marry or have a child. It also espouses the right of all individuals to choose when and if they will have children.

While it urges governments to deal forthrightly with unsafe abortions, which cost an estimated 100,000 maternal lives yearly, it also urges them "to reduce the need for abortion through expanded and improved family planning services." It also advocates abortion laws and policies based on "a commitment to women's health and well-being rather than on criminal codes and punitive measures."

Abortion is contained in the document's section on "reproductive rights," a section the Holy See's U.N. delegation found "extremely worrying."

Msgr. Diarmuid Martin, head of the Vatican delegation, declared April 5 that the document lacked "a coherent moral vison" and suggested that its stated principles were of "an ideological, at times of an operational, nature," which could, if followed, "doom" society to "disintegration."

But the Vatican's assertion did not go unchallenged. Reacting to it, committee chairman Dr. Fred Sai of Ghana chastised the Holy See delegation. "Our writers cannot be accused of not having an ethical perspective." He said that "a lot of ethical considerations" went into the document's chapter on "principles," which was reviewed in a roundtable on ethics last month. Martin said he was not invited to that roundtable.

Sai's reprimand drew applause from many representatives of the more than 300 nongovernmental organizations filling the seats and aisles of U.N. Conference Room One.

Many in the audience wore large labels, proclaiming "papal control" with a slash drawn through it, distributed by Catholics for a Free Choice. …

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