Tuesday, December 4, 2012

UNFPA Report on Family Planning Scorned by Religious Right

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recently released its 2012 State of the World Population Report, By Choice, Not By Chance: Family Planning, Human Rights and Development. The report discusses family planning as a means of ensuring sexual and reproductive rights, stressing the importance of family planning access for all persons. By Choice, Not By Chance demonstrates that family planning access cannot be separated from other human rights. The right to access family planning information, determine when and if one reproduces, determine one's family size, and safeguard one's health are intertwined with political, civil, and social rights. States are obligated to protect and fulfil the right to family planning while refraining from interference with said right (i.e., restricting family planning access through spousal consent laws, prohibiting a particular form of contraception).

When people -- especially women -- have access to family planning services, they experience countless positive outcomes, such as increased educational opportunities, expanded participation in labor markets, and greater power in the family and community. However, family planning issues are relevant to many communities across the world. The report devotes attention to multiple populations in need of family planning education and services, including young people, males, migrants, refugees, persons with disabilities, people living with HIV, and impoverished communities. The report also acknowledges populations that have often been neglected by family planning services, such as LGBTQ persons, victims of child marriage, and people involved in the sex trade.

A U.N. document defending reproductive rights? Cue the usual outrage from the Religious Right!

First, in a November 22nd commentary at the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute website, Rebecca Oas accused UNFPA of promoting "social engineering through family planning." Oas incorrectly claimed that the report favorably depicted sexual activity among adolescents, except for underage marriage. Furthermore, she cited the "recurring theme" of "uncoupling ... procreation from sexual intimacy" in the report.

Next, a November 15th article at CitizenLink quoted Focus on the Family director of international government affairs Yuri Mantilla as criticizing the report over its abortion stance. “It is contrary to fundamental human rights such as the right to life which begins at the time of conception shows that the UNFPA is really not promoting human rights,” Mantilla said.

In a November 22nd commentary at the Washington Times, Janice Shaw Crouse of Concerned Women for America wrote that the "radical feminists' push for universal access to contraception went on steroids" with the release of the UNFPA report. Crouse called the report's human rights arguments "ammunition" for advocates who allegedly want to grab billions of dollars in funding.
"All these reasons constitute ammunition for the women’s rights advocates who have long promoted the idea that family planning is a “human right.” Their agenda is also their rationale for seizing control over billions of dollars on the grounds that family planning is a vital, integral part of nations’ development priorities."
Crouse trotted out the tired argument that promoting reproductive rights is somehow an affront to religious liberty.
"The champion of “women’s liberation” that it is, the UNFPA nevertheless sees nothing wrong with encroaching on liberty by forcing believers around the world to give up their deeply held, long-established religious convictions in order to grant someone else’s far-fetched, newly minted "human right.""
She accused the U.N. of focusing on family planning while neglecting sanitation, medical care needs, and violence against women. The fact that U.N. agencies already focus on these issues -- and the notion that it can do so while also addressing reproductive rights -- did not seem to occur to her. Neither did she consider the notion that violence against women and access to family planning services might be entwined, as both are related to women's bodily sovereignty.

Finally, in a December 1st post at the Heritage Foundation's Foundry blog, Sarah Morris claimed that labeling family planning access a human right supposedly devalues the very notion of rights. She refused to acknowledge reproductive rights as "true human rights".
"While access to contraceptives may be a serious policy concern for groups like UNFPA, to label it a human right is to devalue the very principle of rights. Declaring it to be so is to cheapen the very serious need to defend true human rights—rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The principle of natural rights delineates those fundamental freedoms that government can neither create nor take away."
After speculating about the costs of ensuring family planning access, Morris framed family planning access as somehow inimical to religious freedom.
"Elevating access to contraceptives to the level of a human right not only exhibits poor judgment, but ignores the real and serious conflicts such a promotion can create with real constitutional rights. As Americans have witnessed in Obamacare’s anti-conscience mandate, the idea that contraception access should be governmentally ensured has trampled on religious freedom. The mandate’s requirement that almost all employers provide and pay for abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization—regardless of moral or religious objections—represents an unprecedented assault on religious liberty."
These comments by Religious Right figures serve as a reminder that the far right will not embrace reproductive rights any time soon. Just as they have been steadfast in their resistance to family planning and reproductive justice, so too must progressives and moderates be steadfast in defending reproductive rights.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Feminist Majority Foundation: UN Declares Contraception a Human Right

Slate: Romney Calls Contraception a "Gift" Just As the U.N. Declares It a Right

RH Reality Check: By Choice, Not by Chance: Family Planning is Everyone’s Right

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