UN Population Fund Dabbles in Theology to Promote Abortion

By Stefano Gennarini, J.D. | September 25, 2014

NEW YORK, August 26 (C-Fam) The UN Population Fund is diving head first into theology, exegesis and spiritual practices in a new manual on religions, sexuality, and reproductive issues for UN diplomats and staff.

“We are here!” Azza Karam with the Population Fund told 40 leaders from religious and faith based organizations at UN headquarters last week. There are “many corners of enlightenment,” she said, while lamenting a “very organized conservative opposition.”

Karam, a Netherlands-educated political scientist, presented an outline of the manual that is currently being prepared by the UN agency. The manual purports to present major religions’ positions on abortion and contraception alongside non-controversial items that fall under the definition of sexual and reproductive health like ending child and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

It is “not intended for a religious audience” but UN delegates and staff who discuss these issues in intergovernmental negotiations, she said.

The manual will delve into interpretation and exegesis of religious texts, doctrinal positions, and other intra-religious debates both against and in favor of contraception and abortion from a social science perspective.

Karam said it will bring out the “dissonance between theology and practice” and include religious readings that “support the human rights in question.” It will present interpretations from “gender sensitive readers who challenge orthodoxy,” for example, women theologians who are given resources to come up with religious readings supportive of contraception.

“Abortion is what we get the most grief about,” Karam said before repeating the oft-cited but ambiguous disclaimer that the UN population fund does not lobby for changes in abortion law but does promote “safe” abortion.

Representatives of several Christian denominations were present alongside Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim leaders. The group issued a declaration of support for sexual and reproductive health and rights in UN policies.

The Catholic Church did not have an official representation at the meeting and did not have a hand in the preparation of the declaration. It consistently rejects the term sexual and reproductive health in UN policy because it is defined ambiguously to include abortion where legal.

“Have we missed out on an important perspective?” Karam asked the religious leaders, seeking feedback on the project because of their “theological background.” Not all had been given the draft of the manual ahead of the meeting, and were hearing about it for the first time.

Karam explained that the manual could not address “every single contentious issue,” but only issues that come up in the context of intergovernmental negotiations.

Some in attendance contended “misogynistic” people are in authority in religions, making it dangerous to partner with them for development efforts.

One panelist invited them to “find the next generation of people pushing the boundaries.” Katherine Marshall of Georgetown University told those present to “get beyond formal structures” of religions and get involved in “intra-religious” as opposed to “inter-religious” debate.

Marshall said religions were possibly the best network to advance development efforts, especially in the health sector.