Vatican Criticise UN Population Agreement

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

Both the Vatican and one of its liberal Catholic critics have criticised a non-binding population agreement approved by the United Nations General Assembly last week that calls for sex education for teenagers and continuing access to abortion in countries which permit it.

The document was approved on 2 July after a three-day UN meeting in New York that served as a follow-up to a 1994 UN conference in Cairo, Egypt, on population and development.

Archbishop Renato Martino, who headed the Holy See (Vatican) delegation to the New York meeting, said the Vatican was "disconcerted" by the gathering and said the UN had "taken a step backward, placing unbalanced emphasis on population issues at the expense of development".

However, Frances Kissling, who heads Catholics for a Free Choice, a liberal group critical of Vatican policies and which is mounting a campaign to downgrade the Vatican's diplomatic status at the UN, said there "was no retreat, but also no major advance" in how to implement the Cairo plan of action.

"Frankly, I'm not sure how much this matters on the ground," Kissling told ENI.

Others praised the conference, saying it showed there was growing consensus within the world community about the need for nations to improve reproductive health care for women.
"I think recognition is sinking in everywhere that the way to avoid abortion is to provide access to family planning and contraceptive methods," Nafis Sadik, the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said at a press briefing on 2 July.

Initially, it appeared that the three-day UN meeting would be mired in the same controversy over abortion that had marked the Cairo conference, at which the world's nations established a goal of limiting the world's population - which currently stands at about 6 billion - to no more than 9.8 billion by the year 2050. During the Cairo conference, something of a coalition emerged between the Vatican and some predominantly Catholic and Muslim countries in opposing abortion and some family planning measures. But despite reservations this year from the Vatican and several predominantly Catholic nations, including Argentina and Nicaragua, the UN General Assembly approved a "consensus" document.

The document amplifies what was approved at the Cairo conference in at least two ways - firstly, by stating that abortion should not merely be safe but be accessible; and secondly, by declaring that governments should not merely provide teenagers guidance on sexual and reproductive issues but should respect their privacy and confidentiality when the young people seek such information.

Archbishop Martino said he was particularly concerned that the New York meeting had undone "the careful balancing needed between adolescents' need for privacy and confidentiality with parental rights, duties and responsibilities".

Kissling, however, said the changes contained in the document were not significant in any major way. The New York meeting did little to actually review what progress had been made since the Cairo conference, she said, although she added that it was probably too early to quantify progress in what is a long-term plan to limit the world's population. She said there had been signs of progress since Cairo, including programmes in a number of Latin American nations, such as Mexico, in which women's reproductive health concerns are being taken seriously.

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