Report on Day One: “You can’t put too much emphasis on it; but it’s very striking.”

25 May 2012

The core message of the 2012 World Congress of Families was revealed right at the outset of day one: the legitimacy of the opinions presented as fact at this event is drawn from both international consensus and science, so long as both comport with the presenters’ worldview.

Within 20 minutes of the conference’s opening, the talking points were clear. The first was a citation from the UN Declaration on Human Rights that “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society, and is entitled to protection by society and the state.” The second came when speaker Jamie Mayor Ortega from the Spanish antichoice organization HazteOir asserted that “The power of the term ‘Natural Family’ also derives from the sciences—the social sciences and the natural sciences.”

For the remainder of the day an assembly of speakers repeated these mantras while sharing their hatred of homosexuality and a woman’s right to choice, and revealing their overarching persecution complexes. The speakers struggled to make their individual viewpoints fit under a rather rickety umbrella of disdain for categories they generally agreed were bad, disgusting and dangerous. In terms of specifics the only consensus was that no proof was to be offered, no scientific studies cited.

Though attendance was announced at 2,500, the auditorium at the Palacio de Congressos de Madrid was nowhere near capacity. Of approximately 840 ground-floor seats, at best 2/3 were filled—at worst 1/2. Aside from about a dozen audio-visual crewmembers and other individuals scattered about, the spacious balcony was virtually empty. Spread out over several floors with sparse signage and rooms hidden in corners and down corridors, there was a healthy number of lost souls wandering about, attempting to find where they were supposed to be, wished to be or were instructed to be.

During the opening plenary, Dr. Javier Escrivá Ivars, visiting professor at the Faculty of Canon Law at the University of Navarra, Spain, asserted that “Heterosexuality is the anthropological basis of matrimony and if the legal concept of matrimony is destroyed the institution will follow.” Dr. Escrivá Ivars then picked up on one of the two major themes of the day when he asserted—well outside of the demonstrable evidence of any proven science—that the family was a natural fact from the dawn of time based on marriage as a natural phenomenon and the truth upon which humanity as a species is based. To continue the theme Elder Erich W. Kopischke of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints went on to compare God to gravity and man and woman and any union outside of narrowly defined moral parameters as “drifting from Him.” This was followed shortly afterwards by Lola Velarde, the president of the Institute for Family Policy’s European Network, making a series of assertions concerning the threat of a dwindling world population and broken marriages as two of the worst problems in the world—both assertions being presented with no proof to back up her claims.

The subject of a dwindling world population was the focus of the next plenary, “The Demographic Winter.” The presenters were now fully stretched and warmed up to sprinting speed; the uncited statistics and unfounded assertions came thick and fast. “The average couple that worships at least once a week has at least 2.4 more children [than a non-worshipping couple]. As the rate of weekly worship declines, the rate of abortion also increases exponentially,” stated John Mueller, the Lehrman Institute Fellow in Economics at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, DC. From whence Mr. Mueller acquired this shocking (and somewhat suspect) fact, was apparently unimportant—or, at least not important enough that he felt the need to state the source aloud. Donald Feder, director of communications at the Howard Center—the main sponsor of this event, picked up the baton from Mueller, claiming that the 42 million abortions a year was more than twice the number of deaths during World War II. Notwithstanding the inappropriate nature of the comparison between women’s decisions about whether to remain pregnant and the deaths of adults and children in wartime, most reasonable assessments of the death toll in World War II put the total at over 60 million. But facts were hard to find. Not to be outdone, Douglas Sylva of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) relied on his recollection of statistics from three small and troubled countries—Palestine, Israel and Serbia—to make his case that declining populations would eventually shift the balance of global power. Lunch was a welcome diversion.

Despite the fact that numerous speakers throughout the day cited the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights and its definition of the role of the family in society, the afternoon session “How to Fight Back against International Law,” did not take a kind view of the UN. As chairman, C-FAM’s Austin Ruse stated this session was about the imposition of law by organizations such as UNICEF, the UNDP and a host of other organizations and “how to fight back—legally or otherwise” against them. Ruse accused these organizations of perpetuating atrocities, citing the UN’s support for reproductive health programs as evidence. Piero A. Tozzi from the Alliance Defense Fund later agreed with Ruse, claiming that UNICEF “promotes abortion wherever they have an opportunity.” The remainder of the seminar involved celebrating cases, mostly in Latin America, where a woman’s right to choose was obstructed or denied altogether or same-sex marriage was prohibited. Supply lists were also drawn up for those wishing to combat these international forces. As panelistCarmen Domínguez, professor of civil law at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, put it, “We need more data to counter statistics and information gathered by international organizations.” She then mentioned an instance where a Chilean doctor asserted that he had disproved assertions by the United Nations and various other groups that safe and legal abortion could alleviate maternal mortality. Domínguez failed to note that the Guttmacher Institute had decisively refuted the Chilean study.

The afternoon closed with a pair of seminars that increased the speed and density of cognitive dissonance and paranoia to what could best be described as a screeching blur. Within 30 seconds of standing up to address the (fittingly) sparsely populated seminar “The Demographic Winter” (a quite necessary expansion of the previous plenary session of the same name), Steve Mosher of the Population Research Institute implied that the Club of Rome had taken part in a Masonic conspiracy to misrepresent the levels of natural resources in a book they published close to 40 years ago. There was no conspiracy, Masonic or otherwise; our ability to find and access those resources has simply improved dramatically since then.

A session just down the hall entitled “Birth Control (Contraception) vs. Natural Family Planning,” was perhaps the best attended session of the day. Attendees also heard some of the most bizarre information of the day. Discussing the alleged detrimental effects of birth control pills, Joseph Meaney of Human Life International (HLI) first dismissed the studies on the environmental effects of oral contraception as silly stories about gender changing in fish, and urged the audience to instead consider the effects of the pill upon women. Within moments, he began citing studies involving the effects of birth control on animals (per the prevailing custom of the WCF he failed to specify them in any identifiable way). Animals in Krueger National Park in South Africa behaved bizarrely after they were given birth control pills. A macaque monkey called Austin “began to rape, masturbate and act completely incoherently confused” when the females in his troop were put on the pill. Returning to his initial plea to ignore these stories, Meaney then immediately added, “These are animals studies, so, you can’t put too much emphasis on it; but it’s very striking.”

And with that statement Joseph Meaney explained the underpinning of the entire day: “You can’t put too much emphasis on it; but it’s very striking.” Indeed.

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