Christian Right Has U.N. In Sight: A Review of “Undoing Reproductive Freedom: Christian Right NGOs Target The United Nations”

Eleanor Bader Feb 24, 2007

Undoing Reproductive Freedom: Christian Right NGOs Target The United Nations
By Pam Chamberlain (December 2006)

Undoing Reproductive Freedom: Christian Right NGOs Target the United Nations addresses a frightening and increasingly effective trend in anti-woman organizing. Compiled by Political Research Associates (PRA), a Boston-based nonprofit research center that has monitored the religious and secular right wing for 25 years, the report zeroes in on a host of conservative Christian groups that have turned their gaze on international affairs.

Going beyond distributing Bibles to the world’s heathens, Protestant and Catholic fundamentalists have begun lobbying at the United Nations. Their efforts, says the December 2006 report, have created “a vocal anti-abortion, anti-reproductive health presence at the U.N., both by gaining consultative status as NGOs and through Bush administration appointments to official U.N. delegations, special U.N. meetings, and special sessions.” Furthermore, they have succeeded in publicizing their belief that a fetus’s right to life is basic to human dignity, and have portrayed advocates of abortion access and reproductive health as crazies, hell-bent on demanding what they call “special rights.”


Twelve groups have established non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at the United Nations, among them the American Life League, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, the National Right-to-Life Committee, and the Holy See. While some organizations are less active than others, all are united in opposing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and have stepped up their work to insert abstinenceonly language into programmatic attempts to stop HIV/AIDS. They are also devoted to making sure abortion remains outside the rubric of mainstream health concerns.

According to the PRA study, these NGOs have made notable headway. “In 2003 and again in 2005, the U.S. House of Representatives blocked $500 million in international family planning funds destined for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), falsely claiming that the funds would go to Chinese women aborting pregnancies to comply with China’s one family, one child population policy. In 2002, the United States also froze $3 million in aid to the World Health Organization because the U.N. agency conducts research on safe abortion techniques,” it reports.

The right-wing NGOs’ most recent bugaboo is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly Dec. 12, 2006. “This is the first time the phrase ‘sexual and reproductive health’ appeared in a binding treaty,” says C-FAM’s weekly newsletter. The shift has sent the group into apoplexy, and members are lobbying U.N. delegates to oppose the inclusion of abortion in the phrase “reproductive health,” something most would assume is a given.

C-FAM’s reaction was bolstered by the Holy See, which, predictably, objected to the signing of the disability convention, “because in some countries, reproductive health services include abortion, thus denying the inherent right to life of every human being.” Twenty countries have to ratify the document for it to take effect; ten have already joined C-FAM in denouncing the inclusion of choice: Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Syria and Uganda.


While virtually all anti-choice groups see the United Nations as anti-American, C-FAM is particularly vitriolic in its hatred of the organization and calls the UNFPA “an assault on the world’s people.” In a diatribe that reads almost like a satirical article in The Onion, the group’s website,, lays out the organization’s agenda: fighting the secular humanism at the heart of international social justice movements. “For one side in this clash the sexual/marital act is a most intimate issue, leading to the most prized of all human conditions – the new family, center of love and affection, focus of deepest desires and most strenuous of efforts,” it rails. “For the other side the sexual/marital act is the most promising battleground on which to overturn this old world order, the old universal family order that stands in the way of the dreams of scientific socialist controlled utopia of just the right number of people, of health, efficiency and plenty. UNFPA is to the fore on one side only.”

Concerned Women for America is similarly bizarre, decrying feminist NGOs for promulgating “ridiculous demands for equal participation for men and women in decision making at all levels.” They have joined their colleagues in an ideological challenge to CEDAW and urge members to sign a petition, crafted by C-FAM, against U.S. ratification of it. Its reasoning? “The treaty has been used as a vehicle for ideas that are dangerous to our countries, our families, our mothers and daughters.”

It all sounds laughable, until you realize that the United Nations provides an international forum for the ramblings of U.S.-based religious conservatives. “If the United States continues to provide a platform for the Christian Right at international meetings,” the PRA report concludes, “then in the next three to eight years we may see the advances made by human rights activists over the past two decades undermined, or at least stalled.”

Most on the left lambaste the United Nations as ineffective, slow-moving and overly conciliatory–which it is. But Undoing Reproductive Freedom reminds us of the roadblocks that stymie its potential. It is mandatory reading for all reproductive rights and health activists, alerting us to organizing that is largely under the radar of progressives and feminists.

Undoing Reproductive Freedom, by Pam Chamberlain, is available on the PRA website,

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