July 10th 2010

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Articles from this issue:

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Julia Gillard's long-term agenda

CANBERRA OBSERVED: No easy policy options for new PM Julia Gillard

Shuffling the deck-chairs leaves key issues unresolved

Feminist-backed push to disadvantage parentcare

HOUSING: Rampant divorce pricing young couples out of homes

GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS: Have we reached the end of the beginning?

LEGAL AFFAIRS: Move to centralise control of the legal profession

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Beijing's softly, softly approach to Taiwan, Hong Kong

CHINA: China labour activism heralds profound change

EUROPEAN UNION: EU President admits people misled by euro project

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Suppressing the truth about maternal deaths

Meet the new family, digitally deluged

PARENTHOOD: No man will ever replace a real mum

Vietnam veterans (letter)

Tony Abbott and his faith (letter)

New states deserve support (letter)

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Who jails and tortures the most journalists on earth?; US Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan

BOOK REVIEW: A RAT IS A PIG IS A DOG IS A BOY: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement, by Wesley J. Smith

BOOK REVIEW: WAR IN THE PACIFIC, 1941-1945, by Richard Overy

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Suppressing the truth about maternal deaths

by Babette Francis

News Weekly, July 10, 2010
Scientists have been told by United Nations staff and abortion advocates that they should "harmonise" their findings on maternal death numbers so that the press cannot report numbers that conflict with the ones abortion advocates use to lobby policy-makers and major donors.

This instruction was reportedly given at a prestigious symposium on maternal and child health research, hosted by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and the British medical journal Lancet at the end of May.

This was reported by Susan Yoshihara, PhD and Catherine Glenn Foster, researchers for the New York-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), which acts as a pro-life, pro-family "watch dog" on UN activities.

Ann Starrs, president of the abortion advocacy organisation Family Care International (FCI) told scientists at the Washington symposium to "lock all the academics in a black box and have them come out with a consensus set of numbers" or "at least hide that there is disagreement" and "infighting". FCI is the founder of Women Deliver, which hosted a UN-backed "reproductive rights" fundraising conference in Washington in June.

Lancet had published an IHME study in April that refuted the UN-sanctioned highly controversial figure of 500,000 annual maternal deaths. For two decades, abortion advocates have attributed many of these supposed deaths to the absence of safe and legal abortion. However, Lancet gave a much lower estimate of 342,900 maternal deaths, with 60,000 of those from HIV/AIDS, and said the number has been declining since 1980.

Tessa Wardlow, chief of statistics at UNICEF, shared Starrs's concerns, saying that there is a "system in place for harmonising estimates for mortality, and I would invite IHME to participate in that process and contribute to the methodological dialogue".

Lancet editor Dr Richard Horton responded that researchers should not come to a "consensus" or "harmonise" their findings, but rather should have a "scientific summary view of what the totality of available evidence should be". He argued this should not be centred at the UN, but housed "independently within the scientific community".

He said: "Unless we subject numbers to that peer-review process, I think we are accepting second-class data, and that applies wherever the numbers come from."

Horton told the press that he had withstood significant pressure from activists not to release the IHME study figures until after major global funding conferences concluded this year. These include the G8 summit, the UN General Assembly and the recent Women Deliver conference.

Highlighting the tension in the room between the researchers' desire for openness and activists' call for secrecy, Horton said, "For God's sake, your country, the United States was founded on the press! One of the best documents in the history of humankind is the Federalist Papers; if it wasn't for the press, we wouldn't have a United States! So learn to love the press."

Scientists flatly refused to back up the 20-year-old claim by UN agencies and activists that artificial family-planning, including abortion, improves maternal health. Hans Rosling, professor at Sweden's Karolinska Institute, referred to Sri Lanka's decline in maternal mortality and asserted that the island-nation benefited from asphalt roads and other infrastructure put in place under its period of colonialism. Not mentioned was the fact that abortion is highly restricted there.

At the Women Deliver conference in Washington DC in June, the National Right to Life Committee provided pro-lifers with bright pink bags with a "Celebrate Motherhood" logo. In the bags were a colour brochure showing maternal mortality rates and proven methods for reducing maternal mortality, a foetal model, a foetal development brochure and a "tiny feet" pin. The bags were confiscated by Women Deliver volunteers; but after a complaint by Jeanne Head of International Right to Life, some were returned.

Molly White, of Women for Life International, who represented Endeavour Forum at the Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York in March, covered the Women Deliver 2 conference as a journalist.

She reported: "During the entire conference, we heard over and over again that women had the right to information. Obviously, the right to information only pertains to information about a woman's right to sex, birth control and abortion, but there was absolutely no information on the risks involved. ... It was another International Planned Parenthood Federation promotional event which has the potential of making billions more dollars if abortion laws are stricken in every country.

"On the last day of the conference, speakers were more brazen then ever. The plenary was on educating participants on how to break abortion laws and get access to medicines that would cause abortions. They did not, however, give advice on what to do if the woman started haemorrhaging or if she went into toxic shock. They didn't even discuss the risks involved."

Molly White's questions on health risks associated with contraception, and what help was available to women who suffered physical damage after legal abortions, caused embarrassment.

She was probably lucky she was not locked up in a black box along with the dissident scientists.

Babette Francis, B.Sc. (Hons), is national coordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc.

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