Press Releases 2004

Memorandum: US Mission Sponsors Biased Panel on Maternal Mortality

Media Contact:
202 986 6093

TO: Members of the Press
FROM: Frances Kissling, Catholics for a Free Choice
DATE: October 18, 2004
RE: US Mission Sponsors Biased Panel on Maternal Mortality

On Tuesday, October 19, 2004, the United States’ Permanent Mission to the United Nations will sponsor a panel discussion at UN headquarters in New York: “Maternal Mortality: Effective Strategies for Increasing Maternal and Newborn Survival.”

After reviewing the proposed panelists for the discussion, we are concerned that the United States is promoting both junk science and views that are biased and discriminatory by two of the speakers.

We at CFFC find it disrespectful to both the UN and women that the US mission will sponsor an event on maternal mortality where half of the speakers are ultra-conservative, anti-family planning advocates who have been opposed to the work of the UN in this area.

At a time when the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that 529,000 women die each year from pregnancy-related causes and that meeting the existing demand for family planning services would reduce maternal deaths and injuries by 20 percent or more, it is surprising that the US mission would promote speakers who oppose artificial methods of contraception for family planning, as well as condom use to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The panel will be held Tuesday, October 19, 2004, from 1:15 – 2:45 pm, at UN Headquarters, Conference Room 1. Information about the panelists and moderator follows.

Moderator:

Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey, US Representative to the Commission on the Status of Women

As US Representative to the Commission on the Status of Women, Ellen Sauerbrey headed the US delegations to the 2003 and 2004 Commissions on the Status of Women (CSW). At the CSW in 2004, the US stood alone in its refusal to reaffirm the Beijing Platform for Action. At the 2003 CSW, the US delegation did not join the majority of countries to support women’s rights, but instead sided with Iran, Pakistan and Sudan, calling for the deletion of paragraphs on violence against women and human rights. Sauerbrey’s delegation rejected text stating that countries would agree to “condemn violence against women and refrain from invoking any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination as set out in the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.”

Sauerbrey also headed the US delegation to the Ninth Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, June 10-12, 2004, in Mexico City, which was a meeting of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Once again, Sauerbrey’s delegation isolated the US as the only country not to reaffirm the Beijing Platform for Action and the Cairo Programme of Action. NGOs present at the meeting accused the US delegation of using financial assistance to the region to pressure countries to side with it.

Sauerbrey served as one of two high-profile representatives that the US government sent to the World Congress of Families III in Mexico City, March 29-31, 2004 (an ultra-right conservative gathering). At the World Congress of Families, Sauerbrey stated that the “ideological values her President supports within the UN are maternity status, parental responsibility, heterosexual marriage for procreation, the heterosexual family as the natural and fundamental unit of society, abstinence as ‘the preferred, most responsible, and healthiest choice for unmarried adolescents,’ the ban on human cloning, and the government’s anti-abortion policy which restricts funding for abortions overseas”
(http://www.whrnet.org/docs/issue-sexualrightscommission.html).

Panelists:

Dr. Fernando Carbone, former Minister of Health, Peru

As Minister of Health in Peru from January 2002 to June 2003, Dr. Fernando Carbone Campoverde consistently acted to reduce access to free contraceptives and contraceptive information, instead idealizing and promoting the role of motherhood. His positions and actions have reflected his close affiliation with the ultraconservative Roman Catholic organization, Opus Dei.

Early in his term as Minister of Health, Dr. Carbone questioned the inclusion of emergency contraception in Peru’s family planning program, mischaracterizing it as a form of abortion. In chairing a commission investigating allegations of forced sterilizations during the previous government of Alberto Fujimori (1995-2000), Dr. Carbone was accused of exaggerating the estimated numbers in an effort to discredit family planning programs and to build support for a ban on tubal ligations. Later in 2002, he refused to accept a USD $24 million grant from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) that would have promoted sexual and reproductive rights and encouraged civil society involvement in health programs in Peru. In response to a 2002 WHO report indicating condoms containing the spermicide nonoxynol-9 could damage the wall of the vagina and expose women to AIDS, Dr. Carbone launched a campaign to ban these condoms entirely, disregarding the WHO conclusion that they were better than using no condoms at all. In his efforts, he neglected to explain to Peruvians the risks or to recommend other types of condoms.

In May 2003, Dr. Carbone’s ministry proposed the General Health Law that would have created a “national registry of conceived persons” by requiring women to register all pregnancies with public health services from the moment of conception, thereby conferring personhood (constitutional rights) on a fertilized egg—despite the widely held scientific understanding that fertilization alone does not establish a pregnancy. More disturbing is the fact that such a law would violate international norms of personal and medical privacy. The law also permitted healthcare workers an unlimited right to claim conscientious objection in the provision of services, even in cases where this would result in women having no access to legally permitted health service.

(Barbara J. Fraser, “How Peru Shelved Its’ Registry of Conceived Persons,” Panos Features, October 22, 2003; Rebecca Howard, “Peru Moves Away from Birth Control,” Associated Press, June 30, 2003; Center for Health and Gender Equity, Action Alert: Peruvian Government Attempts to Take Control of Women’s Bodies, June 2003; Kevin Begos, “Fewer People: Peru Resorting to Sterilizations?” Winston-Salem Journal, December 8, 2002; Asjylyn Loder, “Peru Looks to Ban Popular Birth Control Method,” Women’s ENews, August 30, 2002; Abraham Lama, “Peru: Women’s Groups Say Birth Control under Attack,” Inter Press Service, June 13, 2002).

Dr. George Mulcaire-Jones, President and Medical Director, Maternal Life International

Dr. George Mulcaire-Jones preaches abstinence and fidelity from his offices in Butte, Montana, and was quoted by the National Catholic Register in 2001, stating, “Condoms don’t work,” and that they “exacerbate the problem by promoting promiscuity in places where that behavior is most deadly.” He is the founder of the Butte-based non-profit organization Maternal Life International. According to its website, it is “an accepted USAID organization.” While the organization claims to promote maternal health in the developing world, in part through training and resource assistance for HIV/AIDS prevention and care, it espouses an ultra-conservative Roman Catholic philosophy based on the teachings of the papal encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, and promotes only “natural family planning services and AIDS prevention.” Indeed, on its website the organization asserts the goal of moving its “Catholic vision” of healthcare “from the margins of reproductive healthcare to the mainstream.”

Dr. Mulcaire-Jones is listed in an online directory of Natural Family Planning-Only Physicians (NFP-Only) “who do not prescribe, perform, or refer for contraception, sterilization, abortion, or in vitro fertilization.” This directory is maintained by One More Soul, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting awareness of what it views are the “harms of contraception.” Following work in Cameroon from 1985-1987, Dr. Mulcaire-Jones claims that “NFP and AIDS prevention are the same thing” and promotes an AIDS-prevention strategy based solely upon “abstinence before marriage and faithfulness in marriage.”

(Maternal Life International, Wayne Laugesen, “Catholic Teaching Has the Best Way to Stop AIDS,” National Catholic Register, Aug 11-17, 2001; Michael Jamison, “Montantan fighting for lives in Africa,” Missoulian.com, May 23, 2004;
One More Soul website,)

For more information or to arrange an interview with Frances Kissling, president of CFFC, please contact Michelle Ringuette at (202) 986-6093 or (202) 550-1321.

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Catholics for Choice shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women's well-being and respect and affirm the capacity of women and men to make moral decisions about their lives.