By Samantha Singson
NEW YORK, November 22, 2007 (C-FAM.ORG) – At a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) lecture at the UN on Tuesday, Dr. Gertrude Mongella, president of the Pan-African Parliament and former top UN official, praised UNFPA’s controversial promotion of “reproductive rights,” a term used by some UN committees to mean abortion, as a way to reduce the tragedy of maternal mortality even while admitting that the policy has failed to help women.
Mongella, a former UN under-secretary and special envoy on women’s issues and development, reported that the number of women dying from maternal causes in Africa had remained virtually unchanged from 1990 to 2005 and that in some parts of Africa, the maternal mortality rate continues to rise. She said that anywhere from 10-30% of this was due to unsafe abortions.
In fact, the World Heath Organization (WHO) stated recently that virtually no data exists to make such a claim since most developing countries do not report the cause of death or the sex of the deceased. Nonetheless, Mongella pledged to continue quoting that statistic “until the world listens to save the lives of those women.”
Despite the failure of UN agencies to reduce maternal deaths, Mongella praised UNFPA, saying that before UNFPA began promoting reproductive rights, “reproduction was some kind of enslavement” that “chained” women. She went on to credit UNFPA for helping develop “language” surrounding reproductive rights and population and development despite religious and cultural resistance, especially on the issue of abortion.
Mongella indicated that the reason UNFPA’s reproductive rights approach has failed is a lack of national commitment, support, poor coordination, inadequate male involvement, and particularly the low status of women and women’s lack of decision-making power. She then called for more advocacy and NGO involvement, stating, “Women’s rights are human rights and reproductive health is part of women’s rights.”
The way forward, she said, is to train women to “demand maternal health as a right” and set up human rights mechanisms within the UN where countries could be held accountable for their lack of progress.
Conservative UN experts argue that UNFPA has failed because it is radically out of step with the consensus of the medical community, among other things.
A recently released paper by Dr. Susan Yoshihara, notes that health care professionals agree that skilled birth attendants, emergency obstetrics and decent health care are what reduces maternal mortality and that countries that restrict abortion, such as Ireland and Honduras, have reduced their maternal mortality.
Other problems with UNFPA’s “abortion first” agenda, Yoshihara argues, is that it seeks to divert funds from HIV/AIDs and other epidemics in need of attention to the already well funded UN family planning program, relies on unreliable and unsubstantiated data, promotes dangerous abortion practices that jeopardize women’s lives, and targets religion, culture and the families that UNFPA views as barriers to the success of UNFPA’s reproductive rights agenda.