from CRISIS Magazine, April 10, 2006
Facing Down the New Paradigm:
The Family Planning Agenda of the United Nations’ ‘Millennial Goals’
The Most Reverend John C. Nienstedt
This past September, 170 world leaders gathered at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York for the 60th session of its General Assembly. The media focused on President Bush’s speech on terrorism and Secretary General Kofi Annan’s struggles with the oil-for-food scandal that had recently tainted his administration.
But one thing on the official agenda did not get much media notice—the evaluation of the millennial goals, adopted by 189 world heads of state in the year 2000, which proposed to end extreme poverty by the year 2015. The September gathering hoped to evaluate progress made on the goals and to determine how best to move forward on them.
In all, there are eight millennial goals:
1. to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. to achieve universal primary education
3. to promote gender equality and empower women
4. to reduce child mortality
5. to improve maternal health
6. to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
7. to ensure environmental sustainability
8. to develop a global partnership for development.
The first seven goals concentrate on the specific strategies for eliminating poverty, while the eighth implies that it will be done by wealthy countries delivering aid, providing debt relief, and establishing free-trade policies. One of the underlying concerns behind the millennial goals—not explicitly mentioned but never far from the surface—is the question of overpopulation.
Following President Bush to the podium was the Vatican secretary of state, Angelo Cardinal Sodano, who raised the moral and ethical issues behind the program:
We cannot offer an ambiguous, reductive or even ideological vision of health. For example, would it not be better to speak clearly of the “health of women and children” instead of using the term “reproductive health”? Could there be a desire to return to the language of a “right to abortion”?
His concerns were well-founded. In late August 2005, the Vatican Holy See had to issue a warning that a document titled “Religious Declaration on the MDG’s, Women’s Rights and Reproductive Health” was being circulated prior to the September UN meeting for the purpose of broadening the terms “reproductive health” and “reproductive rights” to include abortion, contraception, and other illicit means of family planning. The Holy See raised public awareness of the initiative because it knew that—if adopted—the resolutions would strip the Church’s efforts to defend human life.
The vigilance displayed by Rome is motivated in large part by what another Vatican prelate, Javier Lorenzo Cardinal Barragán, has called the “New Paradigm” in international health care. Speaking as the president of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Healthcare Workers at the Vatican-sponsored World Day of the Sick on February 10, 2004, the cardinal sounded an alarm that this New Paradigm is completely closed to the transcendent. Refusing to acknowledge a vertical reference point, it consequently fails to give an absolute value to human life.
While recognizing that proponents of the New Paradigm do accept some notion of a divinity, the cardinal noted that theirs is but a “poetic and aesthetic god” that each individual makes up for him- or herself. This is certainly not the God of the Bible. Rather, it is evidence of a new global ethic that seeks to replace all previously known religions with a spirituality concerned with the global wellbeing of all human persons within a world order of “sustainable development”:
By sustainable development is meant a development where the different factors involved (food, health, education, technology, population, environment, etc.) are brought into harmony so as to avoid imbalanced growth and the waste of resources.
As the Pontifical Council for the Family points out, however, it is the developed countries of the world that will determine the criteria for “sustainable development” for the other nations. Thus certain rich countries and major international organizations are willing to help developing nations, but only on the condition that they accept public programs that systematically control birth rates.
In the New Paradigm, Cardinal Barragán asserts, “sustainable development” becomes the supreme ecological value. He said:
It is spiritually without God, at the secular level. Its ultimate objective is the viability of the present world, and man’s well-being in it. Practically speaking, it is a new secularist religion, a religion without God, or, if one wishes a new god, that would be the earth itself, to which the name Gaia is given. This divinity would have man as a subordinate element.... The series of values upheld by the New Paradigm are values subordinated to this diversity, which is translated into the supreme ecological value that it calls sustainable development. And within this sustainable development is the supreme ethical objective of well-being.
According to Cardinal Barragán, the grave danger of this New Paradigm is its lack of an objective standard for truth. Consensus on what to do or not to do rests on subjective opinions, which in turn gives rise to an ethic or bioethics that has no consistency.
Christianity, on the other hand, offers a “True Paradigm,” based on an objective and universal ethics. The first principle of this ethics is that human life is created by God, and from this is derived the second principle: that human life is received, not as property, but as something to be cared for. He concluded:
The human person is the synthesis of the universe and is the reason for everything that exists. Present-day biomedical sciences and technologies must be at the service of human life and not vice-versa. They are to construct man, not to destroy man.
The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) are the two major forces behind the New Paradigm and its secular ethic. These institutions have allies in various Non-Governmental Organizations (referred to as NGOs), which are prominent promoters of an anti-natalist global ideology, among whose number are the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, Earth Council Green Peace, and the International Planned Parenthood Association. Their efforts have had far-reaching effects.
Questions regarding overpopulation have concerned the UN since its inception. Two years after the UN’s charter was ratified in 1945, the Population Commission of the Economic and Social Council was established to gather data on populations, to analyze the influence of population policies, and to study the interplay of demographics on social and economic factors. This commission helped to formulate a World Population Plan of Action at its conference in Bucharest in 1974, continued to monitor its progress at the 1984 International Conference on Population in Mexico City, and again in Cairo at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development. It finally reviewed its overall progress at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.
At first the commission was only involved in gathering and analyzing demographic statistics. But by the mid-1960s, its emphasis shifted to a more aggressive agenda in providing governments with advisory services, as well as training and action programs, including fertility planning.
While not the UN’s first International Conference on Population and Development (commonly referred to as ICPD), the 1994 Cairo conference is considered by most commentators a watershed moment for the advancement of secular forces to stem population growth in third-world countries (its action points were later incorporated into the millennial goals).
At the Cairo conference, 11,000 registered participants, representing some 180 governments, and more than 1,000 NGOs agreed that population issues must be addressed more forcefully if development policies were to succeed. A great emphasis was placed on the concepts of women’s empowerment and gender equality as the primary building blocks for population and development.
>From the language used in the formulation of the Cairo agreement, one begins to appreciate just how the issues of empowerment and equality begin to impact the moral decision-making of the persons who are said to benefit from such policies. The broad results aim at: (1) reduced mortality of infants; (2) broader life choices and opportunities for women; (3) the promotion of women’s rights; and (4) an increased financial investment in reproductive health and family planning. While apparently noble, the real results of these efforts are forced, manipulative programs to promote sterilization, contraception, and abortion—all of which are justified under a rationale for achieving peace, economic development, and social justice. Nowhere in the official language do you find the UN documents acknowledging the negative fallout from these radical anti-natalist policies.
The 1994 ICPD in Cairo was followed up by the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in September 1995. During the drafting of the conference’s Platform of Action, the influence of NGOs took on a decidedly pro-feminist perspective. Commenting on the outcome, Robert H. Bork observes:
At the Beijing conference, for instance, the word “family” was not to appear in the Platform. Instead, the word “household” was used. The significance of this is to be found in the feminist insistence upon use of the word “gender” [referred to 216 times in the text]. There being five genders [i.e., man, woman, lesbian, gay, and bisexual], unions or marriages involving any gender or genders are legitimate. These unions are called households. The traditional family is then presented as a household, just one form of living arrangement, not superior to any other. Indeed, since feminists view the family as a system of oppression, and since feminism contains a large lesbian component, the marriages of men and women are often seen as morally inferior to unions involving the other three genders.
Given such a political context, it was no surprise that the Beijing conference also pushed for greater expansion of legalized abortion as a legitimate method of family planning.
In February 2005, the Beijing +10 conference (i.e., ten years after the Beijing conference) drew governmental and non-governmental delegates to New York City to review the implementation of the action items agreed to at the original conference.
The United States delegation—now pursuing the pro-life position of the Bush administration—created a great deal of controversy by proposing a resolution that affirmed that the Beijing documents “do not create an international right to abortion.” The delegation hoped to draw attention to the pressure that had been placed on member countries by courts, legislatures, and NGOs to change abortion laws in accord with this supposedly agreed upon international “right.” The amendment failed on the grounds that it was unnecessary. This was tragically untrue. In July 1999, the UN General Assembly itself adopted proposals to curb the world’s population growth by means of greater “access” to abortion. The proposal was hailed by pro-abortion groups as “a giant advance beyond what was agreed to at the landmark 1994 UN population conference in Cairo.”
After last year’s meeting of Beijing +10, pro-life NGOs were barred by UN officials from speaking to or lobbying member states at the preparatory sessions for the Millennium Summit +5 Conference held this past September. At the same time, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the National Youth Network for Reproductive Rights, and Family Care International (all abortion proponents) were invited to speak to the participants. Many believe this change of approach reflects the displeasure of UN officials with the interventions of the United States and the Holy See representatives.
Speaking to the general secretary of the World Conference on Population in 1974, Pope Paul VI said:
All population policies and strategies, in the judgment of the Holy See, must be evaluated in light of the sacredness of human life, the dignity of every human being, the inviolability of all human rights, the value of marriage and the need for economic and social justice.
Surely each person and couple has a responsibility to the local and world community; but to see all progress as dependent on the decline of population growth betokens shortness of vision and failure of nerve. Economic aid for the advancement of people should never be conditioned on a decline of birth rates or in participation in family planning programs.
Not surprisingly, in 1996, the Vatican suspended its annual donation to UNICEF, citing evidence of the organization’s involvement in abortion and pushing contraceptives on teenagers. A study released in 2004 by the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute cited numerous documents in which UNICEF appears to endorse abortion or to have sent funds to groups that market the RU-486 abortion pill.
In its 1994 reflection Ethical and Pastoral Dimensions of Population Trends, the Pontifical Council for the Family advised caution when reviewing the information on demographics produced by population-control programs. The council listed a number of specific practices that should be actively challenged by the Church and
1. the many attempts on the part of the “population crises ideology” to influence international agencies and governments
2. invoking so-called new “women’s rights” while underestimating a woman’s vocation to give life
3. invoking environmental questions in an excessive or improper way to justify coercive population control
4. the attempts to spread abortifacient products such as RU-486 in developing countries
5. the promotion of sterilization
6. the distribution of anti-life technologies, such as the intrauterine device
7. violating the absolute and inalienable rights of individuals and families
8. abusing moral, intellectual, and political power
9. promotion of drugs, pornography, violence, and the like.
The council urges Christians and all people of good will to educate themselves on the many ways the population-control movement uses the media to project economic and demographic statistics that are both simplistic and inexact. Professionals should be encouraged to provide correct information that both rejects a fear of life and respects the human person and the family. Governments must oppose false concepts of reproductive health that promote different methods of contraceptives or abortion; they should instead promote respect for a woman as wife and mother.
The “anti-baby” mentality, so characteristic of population-control programs, refuses to acknowledge God as the sole creator of life, and thus contributes to the culture of death. This is the New Paradigm that rejects the notion of a transcendent God and reduces moral decision-making to the realm of subjectivism. As Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed, this kind of relativism is the challenge to the gospel in the 21st century, and it will require the efforts of every Christian to overcome.
In the words of Pope Paul VI, “You must strive to multiply bread so that it suffices for the tables of mankind, and not favor an artificial control of birth…in order to diminish the number of guests at the banquet of life.”
The Most Reverend John C. Nienstedt is the bishop of the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota.