Last week thousands of women (and more than a few men, too) attended the Women Deliver 2010 conference on reproductive and maternal health in Washington, D.C. The Women Deliver conference organizers were supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UNAIDS, UNICEF, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the conference was partially funded by U.S. taxpayers. The conference advisory group included private organizations such as Amnesty International, Family Care International (FCI), and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), whose leaders featured prominently in the discussions and concurrent sessions.
Meetings on the conference’s politically polarized agenda ranged in focus from human rights and legal issues, such as sessions titled “Without Sexual Rights There is No Maternal Health” and “Why, When, and How to Take a Government to Court for Maternal Deaths,” to a diverting (and almost certainly heat-producing) discussion on climate change called “Condoms and Climate Change: Can Family Planning Save the World?” Presentations on the potential of medical interventions and better healthcare delivery to continue recent improvements in maternal and newborn health, however, were relegated to side panels. The overriding emphasis of the conference was on increased family planning and abortion projects as the primary tools in reducing maternal mortality and reaching the UN Millennium Development Goals.
Representatives of the Obama Administration attended in force, touting the President’s Global Health Initiative and his dedication to women’s health, as evidenced, of course, by his decision to restore U.S. funding for UNFPA and the reversal of the Reagan and Bush-era Mexico City Policy that had denied U.S. funding for agencies that provide or promote abortion overseas. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent a video message, and both Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer addressed the conference multiple times. In addition, various representatives from USAID and the White House appeared on panels.
Heavy hitters from the international community were also present, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, former Chilean president Michele Bachelet, and former Irish president Mary Robinson, to name a few. All basically sang from the same song sheet of expanding government financing of family planning and “reproductive rights.” To great applause, Melinda Gates pledged an additional $1.5 billion in funding from the Gates Foundation over five years for family planning and maternal and newborn health.
Actress Ashley Judd headlined the celebrity presence, while Arianna Huffington moderated a discussion on “Women and Power.” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof canceled his scheduled appearance on the plenary panel titled “Contraception’s Promise: A Better Life for the World’s Women.”
One particular trend evident at the conference was the continued and intentional migration of terminology away from terms that reflect marriage and family as core cultural values. Tailoring these terms to particular audiences was also stressed. Gill Greer, Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, asserted that adolescents and young people do not want to talk about “family planning,” but instead want to know about “contraception” and “sexual health” or “healthy sex.” On the other hand, an African parliamentarian insisted that “family planning” or “reproductive health” was a much preferable line item in a government budget than “condoms” or “contraceptives.”
Unfortunately, Women Deliver 2010 served as yet another forum for the thinly veiled attempt by the Obama Administration and its allies at Planned Parenthood to tap into the global commitments and funding dedicated to maternal and newborn health. Convening doctors, midwives, and health care advocates from the developing world under the auspices of helping women “deliver” safely proved to be little more than the international version of the Administration’s domestic plan to bail out organizations whose main focus is condom distribution and abortion liberalization.