by Vincenzina Santoro
“Abortion is a common occurrence – there are 56 million each year.”
So said the President of the Guttmacher Institute, Ann Starrs, in her statement following acceptance of the UN Population Award in the institutional category.
Founded as the research arm of Planned Parenthood but spun off a few years ago, Guttmacher is a well-known organization promoting research and policy advice to advance sexual and reproductive health, services and especially “rights.” Interestingly, Ms. Starr began her remarks by alluding to the recent case of sexual harassment at Guttmacher that resulted in the dismissal of the alleged perpetrator.
According to Starr, there were 214 million women in need of contraceptives, but when women were asked why they were reluctant to use them many feared dangers because of “what they had heard.” Therefore, Guttmacher has launched a campaign to promote a more favorable and safe image of family planning. As part of this effort, Guttmacher produced a major report last year with findings and recommendations that won key acceptance by Sweden, South Africa, and various NGOs, emphasizing how “indispensable” sexual and reproductive rights are to fulfilling the promise of the SDGs. Sexual and reproductive health and rights had to be a “reality of all people.”
Ms. Starr also made references to the active role Guttmacher played in securing changes to the penal code in Rumania. Working together with the Colegio de Mexico they were instrumental in assisting Mexico City to change its abortion policy. They also intervened in some unspecified way in Colombia and Uganda.
This year a second laureate was named in the institutional category: “Save a Child’s Heart,” based in Israel. Dr. Lior Sasson, a cardiothoracic surgeon, accepted the award and described the work of his organization. One out of every 100 children is born with congenital heart disease. The organization treats and cures poor children from many countries by bringing them to their hospital in Israel for treatment. So far they have worked in 57 countries and saved some 5,000 children. Currently there are 44 children in their hospital from seven countries, including Palestinian children. The organization also has trained 120 doctors from developing countries. Dr. Sasson interspersed his remarks with biblical quotes (a rarity at the UN!) including: “to save a life is to save the world” and even mentioned the right to life. https://www.saveachildsheart.com/about-us/
At the reception afterwards I shook Dr. Sasson’s hand, told him some words he used were rarely heard at the UN and that he was doing God’s work. He seemed a bit taken aback before saying: “Thank you very much.”
There were three awards given this year. The third, in the individual category, was given to Dr. Sir Prince Ramsey from Antigua and Barbuda who was active in suppressing HIV/Aids in the Caribbean as well as securing antiretroviral medications for pregnant mothers, sometimes at his own expense. However, he did espouse family planning at the various clinics where he worked.
This year’s population award ceremony on June 26 coincided with the UN observance of the “International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture.” Secretary-General António Guterres’ statement for the occasion called for solidarity with victims while calling for “the end of this abominable and useless practice.”
Common occurrence or not – are not the aborted preborn the victims of “an abominable practice?”
Vincenzina Santoro is the United Nations Representative for the American Family Association of New York.