NEW YORK, April 14 (C-FAM) The contrast between the priorities of the developed and developing world was as clear as night and day.

“It is detrimental to not have adequate family planning resources,” a US delegate told the room.  “Why is there a resistance to acknowledging access to family planning as a necessity?” 

The soft-spoken delegate from the small island nation of St. Lucia replied, “How do we get our fertility rate to rise? We were told we needed to reduce our fertility rate –now we have an aging population.”

Both voices spoke out during a UN panel hosted last week by the Holy See, Honduras, and Malta called “Secure Human Development: Marriage, Family, Community.” Laurie Shestack-Phipps, a US representative to the UN, castigated the Holy See and other organizers for not being “comprehensive” in their approach to the panel, specifically mentioning family planning and abortion. She complained further about high fertility rates in the poor countries of Africa. 

Shestack-Phipps said, “How can you say that you value family, community, and marriage, but not bring into the picture that both men and women have a right to a healthy life, to be able to avoid unsafe abortion, and have access to the highest attainable standard of reproductive health, and to decide how many children they should have?” 

The exchange between Shestack and Sarah Flood-Beaubrun of St. Lucia points up an irony at the UN. On the one side are rich countries demanding poor countries reduce their fertility rates, and on the other, the poor countries saying they need higher fertility rates for not just development, but survival. Almost half the countries in the world are facing what has come to be known as demographic winter, where fertility rates have fallen so dramatically that populations are rapidly aging.

The US delegate’s castigation on family planning, which ignored the demographic realities and actual desires of developing countries, is a microcosm of the current UN debates on population and development.  The documents that guide this year’s Commission on Population and Development admit that most nations have achieved low fertility, yet the UN continues to ask donor nations for more and more money for family planning services and for what the UN euphemistically calls commodities: condoms, pills, and injectibles that prevent pregnancy.

Wendy Wright, President of Concerned Women for America, further underscored the incongruity. She has visited many medical clinics in Africa and the doctors there told her of medicine cabinets that are empty of essentials like penicillin but overflowing with condoms – so many that children have taken to blowing them up like balloons and playing with them as toys.  “So much attention is given to family planning that it drains resources away from what the desperate needs are,” she explained.

Archbishop Francis Chullikatt of the Holy See Mission also strongly warned against such warped priorities.  “International programs of economic assistance aimed at financing campaigns of sterilization and contraception, as well as the subordination of economic assistance to such campaigns, are affronts to the dignity of the person, the family, and the human community,” he said.

The panel was organized and hosted by C-FAM (publisher of the Friday Fax, Focus on the Family, and Concerned Women for America). The UN Commission on Population and Development ends this Friday.