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A Catholic Relief Services official discusses their work promoting "family planning" in the Congo.

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BALTIMORE, Maryland , October 17, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Catholic Relief Services facilitated the distribution of more than two million units of various types of contraception, including abortifacients, in the Democratic Republic of Congo over the course of four years, the Lepanto Institute says in a new report.

The program resulted in skyrocketing birth control use in the region where previously residents had minimal knowledge of contraception, says Lepanto.

The US Bishops’ international relief agency was an implementing partner from 2006 to 2010 in the US-funded Project AXxes, in which “family planning” was a “key objective,” delivering contraception, including abortifacients, Intra Uterine Devices (IUD) and related insertion kits, and also surgical sterilization kits, according to the program documents.

The documents reveal as well that CRS’s efforts included seeing to it that “family planning” messaging and supplies were incorporated into vaccination, neonatal, Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) and other aspects of the USAID-funded project.

CRS did not respond to LifeSiteNews’ inquiry on the report prior to press time.

Inventory reports submitted to the U.S. government show how CRS took in 2.25 million units of abortifacient contraception and condoms, and that these contraceptives were distributed from CRS’s warehouse throughout the health zones in the Congo for which CRS was responsible.

The explanations in the quarterly and annual reports obtained by the Lepanto Institute from submissions for Project AXxes to the US Government by the lead organization, IMA World Health, further show that family planning was integrated into multiple aspects of the project, and that CRS was not just involved in that integration, but took part in the planning of the integration as well. The reports also indicate the goal of interspersing family planning throughout the various segments of the project was to decrease the fertility rates of the Congolese in its health zones.

“Given the detail provided in these reports, one thing that is absolutely certain is that Catholic Relief Services received large quantities of abortifacient contraception and condoms,” Hichborn said, “and those contraceptive supplies were in turn distributed to the health zones for which CRS was responsible.”

According to the final report for Project AXxes, the total number of contraceptives received by CRS and distributed to CRS’s health zones were as follows:

Depo Provera an injectable drug given once every three months in order to inhibit ovulation in women,  Depo Provera is an abortifacient drug – 88,235

Lo-Femenal combined estrogen-progestin oral contraceptive that can also be used as so-called “emergency” contraception. As with Depo Provera, Lo-Femenal is also an abortifacient drug –  56,885

Ovrette an oral contraceptive often referred to as the “mini-pill” because it does
not contain any estrogen – 44,097

DIU the acronym for the French phrase meaning “Intrauterine Devices (IUD)  – 1,907

Male Condoms – 2,025,216

Female Condoms – 40,891 CCV Kits CCV is the acronym for the French phrase “contraception chirurgicale volontaire,” which means Voluntary Surgical Contraception, or sterilization. These kits would be used to perform tubal ligations and vasectomies – 18

DIU Kits used to actually insert IUDs into women – 16

Population Research Institute President Steven Mosher, who previously investigated abuses in CRS programs in Madagascar and Kenya, said in a statement that CRS’s role in Project AXxes was unacceptable.

“It is unconscionable that Catholic Relief Services seems to have been directly involved with the distribution of abortifacient contraceptives and condoms in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Mosher said.

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“Bear in mind that these inventory reports were visually verified and signed off in triplicate,” Hichborn said. “In other words, what the inventory reports obtained by the Lepanto Institute show cannot be attributed to an accounting error, and given the details provided in each of the quarterly reports, CRS was not mistakenly identified along with this project.”

Given this, he continued, it’s important to note that the distribution of contraception was established as a primary purpose of Project AXxes at the outset.

“CRS was not ignorant of the goals and procedures of Project AXxes prior to its participation,” stated Hichborn.

Catholic Relief Services was responsible for 340 health centers out of a total of 929 throughout the entire project, Hichborn said, making CRS responsible for 36 percent of all the health centers under the auspices of Project AXxes.

He pointed out that even if all 17 percent of the facilities that already provided family planning services at the beginning of Project AXxes were under CRS’s responsibility, and even if the 11 percent of health facilities that did not at this point integrate family planning were also under CRS’s care, this would only account for 28 percent of the facilities. So at a bare minimum, CRS was responsible for introducing the integrated family planning programs of Project AXxes into at least 77 health centers, and this would only be the best possible scenario, giving the benefit of the doubt to CRS.

“However, as the reports show,” he said, “this is sadly not the case.”

“The truth of the matter is that contraception was almost non-existent in the health zones under CRS’s responsibility prior to Project AXxes,” stated Hichborn, “and those health zones showed some of the greatest increases in the use of birth control throughout the entire project.”

In one example, a section of the “Lessons Learned” in the Final Report for Project AXxes says it was “learned” that word choice and the emphasis that family planning is a part of primary health care were important in convincing young people in the Democratic Republic of Congo to use some form of birth control.

“The emphasis on family planning messages that focused on ‘spacing births’ rather than ‘avoiding births’ were well received at the community level and ensured a higher uptake of services and greater acceptability by couples,” it says.

It states as well, “Supervision and support visits which emphasized that family planning was part of the Minimum Package of Activities were important in underscoring the importance of family planning as part of primary health care.”

The reports also show CRS collaborating directly on more effective ways of integrating contraceptive programs and supplies throughout the project. For example, CRS assisted in organizing a joint meeting, the end result of which was a series of proposals for more efficient and effective ways to mix family planning into varied aspects of the project.

“The fact of the matter is that CRS not only warehoused this contraception and facilitated its distribution, but CRS’ personnel helped the other implementing partners to more effectively distribute contraception into each health center (HC) and general reference hospital (HGR) supported by the project,” Hichborn said.

Project AXxes was the first organization to introduce family planning programs to the Congolese people in the South Kivu region of the Congo, the reports also show.

“In other words,” Hichborn stated, “because of Catholic Relief Services’ work with Project AXxes, these people were introduced to contraception for the very first time.”

Hichborn said as well that in the initial overview describing Project AXxes, the distribution and promotion of contraception was established as a priority from the outset.

“This means that when CRS agreed to participate in Project AXxes, it was already aware of the emphasis that would be placed on contraception throughout the project,” he said.

CRS’s own medical coordinator for the project acknowledged the contraception-promoting component of Project AXxes in a 2011 video produced by USAID. The video shows the medical coordinator wearing a shirt with the logos of both CRS and USAID while discussing the program, including the “family planning”component.

He discusses “family planning” around 1:00 in the video here: 

The Final Report for Project AXxes, published by IMA World Health in June 2014, explains the level of importance contraception played in the project. It says:

“The provision of high quality, integrated and accessible family planning services was another key objective of Project AXxes. Family planning (FP) interventions in Project AXxes are focused on promoting birth spacing and avoiding unwanted pregnancies to improve maternal health and child wellbeing. Targeted interventions focus on service delivery for women (provision of a full complement of family planning methods, training of clinical providers, and increasing accessibility at the community level) as well as promoting family planning and helping communities understand the value of family planning as a component of good health.”

The Lepanto Institute report notes that CRS has responded to past concerns raised over its programs’ involvement in the facilitating of contraception by issuing statements of denial and also attacking those who raise the concerns.

“The AXxes program reports are deeply troubling,” Mosher said. “The reports appear to show that CRS was involved with the storage and distribution of abortifacient contraceptives. If it true that CRS was complicit with the provision of abortifacient contraceptives, it would be a great cause for scandal for the faithful.”


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