Two recent events came down to this: two different visions of female empowerment. On the last Sunday of April 2004, the first national abortion march in a decade at the Nation’s Capital — euphemistically called the “March for Women’s Lives” — emphasized the alienated and abandoned individual woman, summed up with one word: abortion. In the last week of March 2004, the World Congress of Families III in Mexico City provided a very different vision of an interconnected, socially and religiously embedded woman.
Organizers for the abortion march had a difficult time generating enthusiasm for their effort. They predicted a crowd of “hundreds of thousands” from 1400 organizations, though some admitted that they feared that the size of support would not match the sponsors’ hopes. At the last minute the sponsoring organizations expanded the invitation to include anti-war and anti-Bush demonstrators.
The media exhaustively covered the event as being the authentic expression of mainstream thought despite opinion polls indicating that America is increasingly pro-life — New York Times/CBS Poll, January 2004 indicates that less than 40% of 18-to-29-year-olds think that abortion should be generally available (down from nearly 50% in 1993).
In contrast, the sponsors of the pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family World Congress of Families worked hard hoping to have at least 2000 persons show up for their event. Instead, attendance surged to 3300 delegates from 79 nations who traveled to Mexico City for what many believe to have been the largest-ever international pro-family gathering. Each successive World Congress has more than doubled the previous event. The first World Congress of Families met in 1997 in Prague, Czech Republic with 700 delegates from 45 nations. The second World Congress of Families met in 1999 in Geneva, Switzerland with over 1600 delegates from 65 countries.
Clearly grass roots concern about the disintegration of the family is increasing and support for strengthening the family transcends national boundaries. The WCF III gathering included high-level representatives from dozens of nations – the First Lady of Mexico, Members of the European and Australian Parliaments, an Italian Minister and many others — many of them poorer nations and nations coping with the HIV-AIDS epidemic.
Even so, media and public policy elites virtually ignored the conference.
Nevertheless, the meeting did draw attention in some quarters: leftist activist groups issued press releases with apocalyptic headlines: “President Bush Addresses International Conference of Right Wing Leaders Via Letter,” angrily cried one. In light of the general agreement on the importance of the family for children’s well-being and for national stability, why would the purpose of the conference — to “build bridges” toward “a suitable world for the family” — be controversial?
Certainly, mainstream media find nothing controversial about an abortion march being called a march for women’s lives. Yet, no one to my knowledge, has asked for evidence that women’s lives are at stake; nor did the sponsoring organizations acknowledge the emotional and physical suffering many women endure after their abortions. Like the term “pro-choice,” the upbeat title for the march masks the gut-wrenching reality of a woman’s decision to have an abortion.
It also masks the reality that the sponsoring organizations have lost touch with the younger generation — the majority of whom are pro-life because scientific advances like ultrasound have provided irrefutable evidence of prenatal life. Sponsors of the march acknowledge that a major purpose of their efforts is to reach the next generation of young women.
Since the liberal media didn’t provide a window to the World Congress of Families III, let me describe it from my vantage point as a speaker and representative of co-sponsoring organizations, the Beverly LaHaye Institute and Concerned Women for American: According to the World Congress keynote speaker, Gary Becker, Professor of Economics and Sociology, University of Chicago and recipient of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Economics, the social fabric of nations is deteriorating worldwide. This indicates, he argued, a need for the “human and social capital” that grows naturally in the nourishing environment of the healthy family and that is so necessary for the development of nations.
Providing a counterpoint to the view that it is the lack of abortion that oppresses women, Christine de Vollmer, President of the Latin-American Alliance for the Family, succinctly summarized the conference theme that the natural family is the foundation of society. “It was thought that development [of society] could be brought about by injections of money and by government edict,” she said. “The scandalous failure of these theories, so obvious particularly in Latin America and Africa, has left hundreds of millions at the mercy of hunger, disease, ignorance, and worst of all, the manipulation of powerful interests . . .. It is now obvious that it is only by forming individuals, from birth, in values and virtues, that societies will be able to grow, develop and become self supporting, law abiding and self determining.”
Experts across the spectrum of social analysis — psychology, economics, social work, political science — now acknowledge the irreparable harm to children from family breakdown and agree that children need the stability and nurturing of a family unit that includes both their mother and their father — what speaker John Vining, President of the Church of God (Pentecostal), called the original “bio-psycho-social-cultural model of human development.” Indeed, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls the family unit “the natural and fundamental group unit of society” and states that the family unit is “entitled to protection by society and the State.”
Why then was having the World Congress of Families III launch the year 2004 as the 10th anniversary of the United Nation’s International Year of the Family and the 2004 Year of the Family a polarizing event?
“The international policies advocated by the World Congress and President Bush surrounding sexual and reproductive health harm real people, primarily women and children in the poorest parts of the world,” said Tamara Kreinin, President and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS). “All non-governmental organizations, international health organizations, and government bodies around the world must continue to stand up to this extreme agenda to halt its damaging impact,” Kreinin said.
Harm real people? Who among us cannot see that the formation of families represents the flowering of the deepest and oldest urges of our humanity?
It’s damaging impact? Who can honestly deny that this new “right” of abortion represents the withering of our humanity?
Strange world we live in – promoting the family is an extreme agenda, but promoting abortion is not.