As I approached the conference hall for the commencing date of the Women Deliver Conference, I was intrigued to discover that the organizing committee of the conference received a letter from a few organizations such as Concerned Women for America, World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, United Families International , Society For the Protection of Unborn Children, Asociacion Mexicana "Cultura de la Vida," American Association of Pro life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, and many more, discussing their "profound disappointment and dismay that the Women Deliver conference has failed to meet its stated objective of addressing Millennium Development Goal 5, which is to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity."
In a letter to Jill Sheffield, president of Family Care International, these groups alleged that "the conference agenda was so preoccupied with promoting the ideology and practice of abortion that the genuine health care needs of women and children were virtually ignored." The letter insinuated that members of the organizing committee — including the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and Marie Stopes International — utilized the conference as a platform to promote a private agenda and abortion throughout the third world, since they have a vested financial interest in the provision of abortion. To state that the conference "sidelined the main issues related to maternal mortality" (basic health conditions based on vaccine availability, clean water, sanitation, basic nutritional supplementation, primary medical post-natal and peri-natal care, fistula, female genital mutilation, hemorrhage, sepsis, obstructed labor, and eclampsia) is grossly unfair. Though some issues were stressed more than others, between speakers' corner sessions, featured sessions, and the simultaneous sessions, I feel that all those "sidelined" topics were addressed. What many pro-life organizations fail to realize is that it is impossible to speak about family planning and infant and maternal mortality and morbidity without discussing abortion. Yes, there were five workshops discussing abortion during the conference. However, I find it odd that these same organizations are not complaining that there twice as many sessions focusing on HIV/AIDS and women. Why are they not proclaiming that Women Deliver has become an AIDS conference? I think it is easy for anti-abortion groups to start pointing fingers and stating that everyone is shaping things to be about abortion, when this is not the case. The fact is that abortion cannot be excluded from a conference such as Women Deliver and for an organization, whether pro-life or pro-choice, to have wanted such sidelining is, as stated by one attendee, "a serious act of negligence which leads not only to continuing, but increasing the risks associated with maternal health."
In my opinion, the conference was well rounded, containing sessions which discussed issues such as income disparity and its effects on maternal health care; obstetric fistula; female genital mutilation; increasing funding to low-income countries to fund sexual reproductive rights programs; eclampsia; post-natal care; violence in pregnancy; obstetric complications; cervical cancer; investing in health care systems; malaria in pregnancy; HIV/AIDS and motherhood; international human rights laws and their effect on women; and many more topics. Although I wish that more of the sessions would have focused on youth, I do believe that the conference was objective and most certainly did not exploit the tragedy of infant and maternal mortality and morbidity to promote abortion rights.
To read the letter in its entirety, please check out the comment on Rupert Walder's post on Women Deliver entitled "Global Commitment to Safe Motherhood."