OVER THE LAST two weeks, this newspaper has reported and commented on several major stories involving matters concerning abortion, contraception and population control. Last week, we published articles on the implications of the supposed birth of the world's sixth billionth citizen. Two weeks ago, we reported that at their annual conference and in their document Listening to Britain's Churches, the Tories had executed what Ian Linden, of the Catholic Institute for International Relations described as a "Y turn" — "not quite a Uturn, but a significant change of direction" in which their former policy of explicitly linking development aid with population control was clearly and with deliberation abandoned.
The most notorious example of this was the funding by Ms Short's predecessor Lynda Chalker, via the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), of the Chinese government's brutal population control programme — a policy continued under the present administration.
" This about-turn in Conservative policy was a development welcomed by many Catholics, including Julian Filochowslci Qf Cafod, who described it as "a very great advance that will be welcomed not only by Catholics but by Muslims and many others as well". It was also welcomed by this newspaper, drawing unjustified criticisms from some quarters of pro-Tory bias (this newspaper is strictly politically neutral). This false impression was strengthened by the fact that we also reported that Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development, had authorised funding for research into the abortion-inducing drug RU 486.
Ms Short has now replied, in her customary forthright manner, accusing The Catholic Herald of being "obsessed" by such questions. She also claims that we are "little interested in improving living conditions for the one in four of the human family that live in abject poverty" — a disgraceful slur, of the falseness of which our regular readers will be well aware. She also denies that her department is involved in funding studies "concerned with the development of methods for induced abortion", or that she or the UN support China's one-child policy.
IN EVERY PARTICULAR, these claims (and others contained in her letter) fly in the face of evidence to the contrary. Her department gives £17 million a year to the IPPF and the UNFPA, which in their turn fund population control in China, where there is overwhelming evidence that abortions at gunpoint, forcible insertions of IUDs, and other human rights abuses are carried out with the help of these funds. So the UN does support and the British Department for International Development funds what Clare Short herself nevertheless describes as an "abuse of human rights". If she wants us to believe that she is really "focused on ending" this abuse, she will end her support for the UNFPA and the IPPF. At the very least we have a right to expect an explanation of how she can believe that funding an abuse of human rights is consistent
with trying to end it
On another matter, Ms Short appears — at first — to be on firmer ground. We reported that her department was funding research into the abortion pill RU 486. Against this, Ms Short says that "these studies are not concerned with the development of methods for induced abortion", and that the Contraceptive Development Network (the body carrying out the research) is "examining the safety and efficacy of a number of compounds to prevent pregnancy": the implication is that our story is untrue. But according to a fax from her own department, in the CDN studies "mifepristone is one among a number of compounds being examined to prevent pregnancy". Mifepristone is another name for the abortion drug RU 486. It is true that a continous low dose of this drug will suppress ovulation. Nevertheless, a number of studies already completed and published have established that without the addition of progesterone (which will cause ovulation to return) this treatment will tend to produce cancer of the endometrium. Since there are other compounds already available which suppress ovulation without this complication, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that this research into RU 486 has some other purpose. In any event, our report stands vindicated as wholly accurate.
IT IS, PERHAPS, Ms Short's final sentence which reveals how far she is driven by ideology, and how little acquainted she is with the realities of a sound development policy which really would improve the lives of the millions throughout the developing world who live in poverty. "It is," she says, "lack of access to contraception that is the cause of most of the abortion that takes place in the world." But as a recent survey showed, in this country — where contraceptives are readily available — 60 per cent of women asking for abortion were taking contraceptives. In the Third World, furthermore, overwhelmingly the greatest number of maternal deaths are caused, not by unsafe abortions (Ms Short's figure of 75,000 is simply plucked out of the air) but by a lack of basic education and healthcare. And there are far too many well-founded stories of funding being refused for such bodies as Matercare International — whose specific remit is safe childbirth, and to which DFID denied funds last year — when funding for abortion and contraception is prodigally supplied.
Finally, let us hear no more from Clare Short about how little Catholics care about improving the lot of the 25 per cent of the human race that live in abject poverty. The simple fact is that the Catholic Church is one of the greatest providers of development aid and by far the greatest provider of health care in the Third World, far outstripping government aid from any single source. The Church's hospitals, dispensaries, nursing orders and its veritable army of dedicated volunteers in the Third World make the efforts of the Department for International Development look puny. It is time Ms Short stopped her obsessive attacks on Catholics and put her own house in order. She has a lot to do.