Interim editor Paul Tuns explains how the UN embraced depopulation
as a goal and is pushing abortion as a human right


The United Nations began with lofty goals. Born in the aftermath of World War II, it sought to prevent another global conflict. But through the years, it has increasingly become involved in domestic policy including, unfortunately, the social policy of nations. Under the guise of economic development, protecting the environment, and sustainability, as well as “human rights” and “equality,” the United Nations and its myriad agencies have promoted population control, “reproductive rights,” abortion-on-demand, and anti-family policies.

It is, therefore, necessary to examine the history of the UN’s advocacy of an anti-life agenda, often under false pretences, and one that was best summed up by the Dutch pro-life organization Schreeuw om Leven. It noted after the Habitat II conference in Istanbul in 1996: “Reading through the conference declarations and hearing the reports of attendees, a quite different picture arises than the UN’s declared interest in the growth of urban centres or, in the case of the Beijing women’s conference in 1995, the plight of women in attaining true equality.” Schreeuw om Leven continued: “It is not a picture of global concern for global issues, nor protection of suffering peoples against international aggression. Rather, it is an attack on societal values concerning life and family, an aggressive abortion policy for reason of greed on an international scale, the blackmail of needy nations and a disdain for national integrity.”

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Did the UN support population control at its founding?

According to a 1974 U.S. Coalition for Life Educational Fund Pro-Life Reporter newsletter, within the first month of its existence, the UN’s Economic and Social Council established the UN Population Council , which was charged with studying population structures and trends and offering demographic advice to the United Nations. USCLEF stated that by the UN’s first Population Congress in 1954, a Malthusian anti-population mentality was being presented on the international level, although it did not get very far. However, USCLEF said “the showdown” between Malthusian population controllers and those who saw people as a national resource “appeared to be inevitable.”

A short history of major UN conferences

Cairo (1961)

Scandinavian delegates at the First World Population Conference pushed to have permissive birth control policies a condition of a nation receiving foreign aid from institutions such as the World Bank. But the conference deferred to the position of countries such as Argentina in acknowledging that moral issues were beyond the purview of the UN and Spain’s warning that the promotion of contraceptives in countries that did not permit them would inevitably lead to a push for abortion and euthanasia.

Belgrade (1965)

The Second World Population Conference established the Trust Fund for Population Activities, which would help pay for population-control schemes through the World Health Organization, UNICEF, UNESCO, the International Labour Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Bank. By 1969, the Fund established its own board, enabling it to bypass the scrutiny of member states. It also changed its name to the UN Fund for Population Activities – the UNFPA.

Stockholm (1972)

The first UN conference on the “human environment” saw the industrialized nations demonstrate an interest in environmental issues for the first time.

Bucharest (1974)

Population control was described as a desirable goal for the first time by the industrialized nations at the World Population Conference, held during what the UN billed as World Population Year. While the WPY Secretariat gave lip service to the “principle” that a couple had the right “to decide the size of its family” free of coercion, the conference’s objectives included: improved information on demographic trends; the provision of sex education, maternal and childcare through formal education; expansion of “international co-operation in population fields;” and stimulating “discussion of alternative population policies.”

As innocuous as all this sounded, the developing world understood what it meant as its delegations attacked population control as a form of Western imperialism. Subsequently, every reference to population targets was removed from the proposed World Population Plan of Action. To avoid such confrontations between the developed West and the Third World, Catholic World Report magazine stated in 1993, “From then on, everything would be couched in terms which disguised the real motives for the programs.”

Mexico City (1984)

The International Conference on Population was intended to determine what “progress” was being made on the World Population Plan for Action from the Bucharest conference, but the United States made headlines when it was announced that president Ronald Reagan would henceforth prohibit the funding of abortion-providing organizations. While noting that “since Bucharest, the global population growth rate has declined,” the final declaration recommitted the world community to the promotion of “safe and effective family-planning methods.”

Rio de Janeiro (1991)

Led by Maurice Strong, the Earth Summit’s secretary-general, the delegates committed their nations to goals of sustainable development (see above), a policy animated by the view that the presence of human beings and the continued health of the planet were diametrically at odds. The final document’s commitment to sustainability would lay the foundation for the promotion of anti-life policies at future conferences on population, cities, social development, women’s rights and human rights.

Cairo (1994)

The direction of the Population and Development Conference was clear from the beginning with the naming of Nafis Sadik, executive director of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, as the secretary-general of the conference. The UNFPA and Sadik were both vigorous promoters of abortion and contraception. Furthermore, the chairman of the drafting committee for that conference was a former chairman of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Not surprisingly, nearly $15 billion of the $17 billion committed to “development aid” at that conference was devoted to population-control activities.

Beijing (1995)

Far from seeking to promote genuine equality for women, and addressing the real concerns of women trapped in poverty in the developing world, the Beijing conference was hijacked by feminists (led by U.S. first lady Hillary Clinton), who sought to promote abortion-on-demand, tie development aid to population control programs and foist radical sex education programs upon the developing world. At the time, The Interim reported that sessions were often delayed and forced to drag on until the middle of the night until smaller delegations, typically from more conservative (morally speaking) developing nations and the Islamic world were exhausted and left the proceedings. In their absence, feminist-led Western delegations rammed through a proposal to consider reproductive health as “a human right.”

Istanbul (1996)

Ostensibly, Habitat II on Human Settlements was a conference examining urban issues, but it picked up where the Cairo conference left off. The UN highlighted scary projections of cities bursting at the seams with people and insufficient resources to provide even basic levels of service for them. However, pro-life groups learned from their experience in Beijing and, working with the Holy See, Muslim nations, predominantly Catholic Latin American nations and many African nations concerned about their traditional ways of life, were successful in preventing the final document from taking a too-stridently anti-life position.

The secretary-general of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Ingar Brueggemann, stated she “misjudged … the strong presence of the pro-life lobby at the conference … We were a little naive to assume that the issue had been dealt with … at Beijing. Perhaps we should have called some more pro-family planning NGOs to Istanbul.” There were more than 2,000 pro-abortion NGOs at Istanbul, compared to just over 100 pro-life ones.

Rome (1996)

At the Food and Agricultural Organization-sponsored food summit, a conference ostensibly about the world’s future food situation, there were more than 500 references to population policies, reproductive health and women’s education (in which the UN often inserted sex education programs that encouraged sexual promiscuity and the normalization of homosexuality). That agenda was pushed by the Clinton administration, which advocated “population stabilization” and family planning as key components to achieving world food security – the ostensible goal of the Rome summit. The rationale seemed to be that the fewer mouths there were to feed, the better.

The FAO altered the rules for NGO participation by making it more difficult for pro-life NGOs to observe and participate in the proceedings.

UN Millennium Summit (2000)

The week-long conference held at the UN’s headquarters in New York called for a central role for the international body in “managing worldwide economic and social development,” despite the UN Charter specifically forbidding the UN from “interven(ing) in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of the state.” There were renewed attempts to have abortion declared a fundamental human right. As Steve Mosher of the Population Research Institute noted at the time, “Instead of protecting existing human rights …

The UN twists the notion of human rights beyond recognition by attempting to define new rights, such as the ‘right’ to abortion.”

Which UN organizations
promote anti-life policies?

The World Health Organization

In the 1960s, the WHO limited itself to providing technical assistance on, and reference services for, population-related health services. But by the 1960s, the WHO was establishing “reproductive centres” that provided contraceptives, including ones that were abortifacient. It fully embraced “family planning services” as part of its “comprehensive” maternal and child health care program.


The UN International Children’s Emergency Fund long denied any involvement in population control schemes, specifically the promotion of contraceptives and family planning. But why else would the UNFPA give millions of dollars to UNICEF, but for population programs? As early as 1966, UNICEF budgeted nearly $700,000 for family planning programs, a figure that rose to $4.3 million within six years – all during a time in which UNICEF denied any involvement in such programs. Henry Labouisse, UNICEF’s executive director at the time, said the organization was concerned about the “population explosion,” because “it is the children who suffer most from the inability of parents to provide sufficient care and attention to their large families.” By 1970, UNICEF was providing contraceptives and in 1974, UNICEF began its first major propaganda campaign, a publication entitled, “Stop at Two! – Mauritius Takes Family Planning Action,” which encouraged families to have only two children.

As Winifride Prestwich, a longtime Interim editorial advisory board member and former columnist, noted in the booklet, “UNICEF: Guilty as Charged,” despite repeated denials by the children’s emergency fund that it does not promote abortifacient contraceptives, there is a record that goes back at least as far as 1970 in promoting their use. Prestwich notes that the 1974 Population Report from George Washington University reported that UNICEF “supplied tablets and raw materials” equivalent to five million doses. By 1977, it was exposed that UNICEF was providing oral contraceptives, IUDs, condoms, diaphragms and spermicides. Prestwich reported that the 1979 Population Report from Johns Hopkins University found “about 80 per cent of the (oral) contraceptives funded by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities are purchased by the United Nations Children’s Fund.”

Prestwich also demonstrated the extensive support of sterilization programs in the 1980s and the organization’s support for China’s family planning program, which included coerced abortion. In 1987, UNICEF endorsed the recommendations of the International Conference on Better Health for Women and Children Through Family Planning, including one that read: “Where legal, good-quality abortion services should be made easily accessible to all women.” By 1992, some UNICEF delegates were advocating abortion in countries were it was not legal. As Prestwich concluded in her landmark study, “It is a mistake to think of UNICEF as a charity,” because “those who work to feed and clothe the impoverished children are not involved” in deciding how the organization’s funding is used.


In 1971, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities was put under its own authority to assist developing countries in “assessing and coping” with population issues and to act as a provider and supporter of “population projects.” The UNFPA is the leading distributor of condoms, providing literally billions of them to the developed world. In 1998-1999, the Fund spent 58 per cent of its procurement budget on contraceptives. It is also the leading enabler of abortion facilities in most countries, including India, the Philippines and Vietnam. Its ubiquitous support of abortion eventually led to its involvement with China’s one-child policy.

While it has long denied it endorses coercive abortions and forced sterilizations, Douglas Sylva, formerly of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, found the “UNFPA’s involvement in the one-child policy has been much more substantial than initially thought.” The Fund: gave Red China $50 million in 1979 to launch its program through the Chinese State Family Planning Commission; it has served as its principal international defender; and provided information to the CSFPC that it used to set population quotas. Sylva’s report on the UNFPA also exposed the Fund’s role in Vietnam’s two-child policy.

In 1997, the UNFPA released a document, “The Right to Reproductive and Sexual Health,” which outlined the development of “a human-rights approach to reproductive health” and its evolution from “the right of family planning” as enunciated at the 1968 Teheran Human Rights Conference to the “affirmation” of the “right” to “better sexual and reproductive health” at the Cairo and Beijing conferences in the mid-1990s. Despite the efforts of the UNFPA and other anti-life agencies and organizations, abortion itself has not been declared a fundamental human right.

The Food and Agricultural Organization

The FAO would ostensibly not deal with family planning, but during the 1970s, it was pressured by other UN agencies, most notably the UNFPA, and the U.S. delegation to distribute condoms in the developing world in its packages of powdered milk and cartons of grain. Pro-life groups expressed concern that the UN would tie food aid to the acceptance of contraceptives where local laws would not otherwise permit them. The FAO has denied doing this.

The International Labour Organization

In 1968, the ILO established its “family limitation mandate,” wherein it began including family planning information in its workers’ education resource packages. It advocates through its worldwide connection to trade unions and other labour organizations, making family planning services a part of employment packages.

International Criminal Court

Established in Rome in 1998, the ICC is intended to prosecute crimes against humanity when nation-states are unwilling or unable to take action against those who commit genocide or other grievous crimes. Unfortunately, what the ICC considers a crime against humanity is ill-defined. Despite some laudable goals, there were a number of particular concerns for pro-lifers.

Foremost among them was the ill-defined concept of “enforced pregnancy” as an international crime. This term, if not properly defined, could be used to declare any law against abortion a crime. In other words, any nation that prohibits abortion would be forcing a woman to remain pregnant which would violate her human rights. Thus, a “human right” to abortion would be created. As reported at the time, “As one pro-family lobbyist said, ‘This is a step in the direction of having all restrictions on abortion declared criminal.’”

Furthermore, individual and special-interest groups may lay complaints with the court. This could turn the court into an extraordinarily powerful instrument of forced social change by feminist, homosexual and other radical social change groups. The presence of feminist and other radical NGOs at the founding convention raises serious concerns about the use of the ICC as a tool for massive social change.


The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, established by the UN General Assembly in 1979, meets regularly to assess discrimination against women. Predictably, it has a broad definition of what constitutes discrimination. It often cites countries for their “restrictive” abortion laws and lack of easily available “reproductive health services.” The Committee has often reiterated its opposition to the use of cultural and religious distinctiveness as reasons to resist implementing CEDAW resolutions: “Traditional, religious and cultural practices, or incompatible domestic laws and polices, did not justify violations of the Convention.”

Examples of their anti-life advocacy would fill volumes, but typical examples include its 1998 condemnation of Slovakia’s “legislative and cultural overemphasis on motherhood and family roles for women,” as it urged the eastern European nation to implement a universal daycare program, and its 2002 criticism of Peru that it had not done enough to change “cultural attitudes” about abortion and that it had not legalized the “morning-after pill.” While both nations resisted CEDAW pressure, many others buckled to the Convention’s wishes.


As the PRI’s Steve Mosher has noted, “Despite having a Charter that touts the ‘dignity and worth of the human person,’ the UN acts as though all people, born and unborn, are a burden and not a blessing.” During each major  conference, the proceedings and final document paint humanity as an unwelcome intruder on the planet. The UN has come a long way from its early visions of being the last, great hope for mankind to being an international organization intent on eliminating a large portion of the human species.