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Vatican religious alliances to end family planning worldwide: 1994-2016 Vatican religious alliances to end family planning worldwide: 1994-2016

The Vatican alliance with the US Evangelicals to outlaw contraception has limited access worldwide. It has made the US public reluctant to contribute to health clinics in developing countries and to the UN Population Fund. This alliance was then extended to include the large Russian Orthodox Church and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Now the Vatican — doubtless with its eye on China — is making overtures to the Buddhists.

♦ Life at all costs
♦ Vatican-Orthodox alliance to boost population 
♦ How anti-contraception groups hijacked the Russian health service  
♦ Saint Gianna, patron of motherhood-at-all-costs

The Vatican is offering other religions a winning tactic: join our anti-choice coalition and boost your own membership. That's because pro-lifers have more children and they have them earlier. This “natural selection through cultural variants” has already increased US public opposition to abortion by an estimated 5%. Outbreed the competition and eventually you can outvote them, too. [1] 

Opposing this is the United Nations which says access to contraception is a universal human right that could significantly improve the lives of women and children. [2] Yet the Vatican wants to deny them this human right and prevent women from deciding how many children they can provide with a good start. It tries to outlaw the most effective methods of family planning by defining them as "abortion". (See "A biologist sets the pro-lifers straight") To extend this ban worldwide the Vatican needs help and it has been mustering religious allies one by one:

1994 — Joint document Document Evangelicals and Catholics Together pledges cooperation "to secure the legal protection of the unborn." [3] This provides encouragement for the Quiverfull movement which began among conservative US Evangelicals who eschew all forms of contraception.

2006 — This group endorses the Vatican’s “culture of life” programme, This formalises what had already become a working relationship and gives the Vatican powerful allies in areas like the US, Latin America and Africa where Evangelical Protestant churches are making great gains. [4]

2011 — Russian Orthodox Church calls for a “strategic alliance” with other religions teaching that life begins "at inception" (as if this were its own idea). [5] The effectiveness of this alliance can be seen in the success two years later of the Georgian Orthodox Patriarch, Ila II, in getting the government to consider a ban on abortions. [6]

2013 — Israel's chief rabbis equate abortion with murder. [7] Leaders of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations go to the Vatican to discuss what to them it calls “the problem of disrespect for the human person". [8]

         — In the Catholic and Southern Baptist leaders team up to press for a “conscience rights” bill, which could help make abortion even harder to obtain in the US. [9]

         — The Vatican's senior diplomat, Cardinal Tauran, urges a joint commitment with the Buddhists to “unmask the threats to human life.” The Vatican thinks in centuries and doubtless this is being done with an eye on China which will some day have more religious freedom. There are slightly more Chinese in the world than Catholics, with 1.3 billion Chinese just surpassing the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

What if “China opens up and becomes the greatest field of Christian mission since the Americas?” asked an article in the Catholic Education Resource Center. For one, it might create a different Catholic-Muslim global balance, projected in the article to be 1.3 billion Catholics to 1.8 billion Muslims by 2025, the article said. [10]

2014 — The anti-choice lobby is showcasing a Lutheran sect, the Laestadians, that is part of the state church of Finland. [11] This cultlike group tells members they will go to hell if they use contraception. [12] Getting more Lutherans into the anti-choice alliance would undermine the traditional Scandinavian support for worldwide access to contraception. Two years later, in 2016, the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S. approved a declaration recognising “there are no longer church-dividing issues” on many points with the Roman Catholic Church and listed the next steps on addressing remaining differences between the two churches. [13]

— Some Muslim countries are also moving to ban contraception, though without adopting the Vatican's theological framework.

— In the predominantly Sunni Turkey women's reproductive rights are being limited by the increasingly Islamicist government of Turkey. “Borrowing a page from America’s Christian right” [14] it has been accused of trying to impose an abortion ban through the back door. [15]

— And Shia Iran has banned permanent forms of contraception, such as vasectomies in men and tubectomies in women, and even made it illegal to advertise any form of birth control. [16] Doctors who violate the ban are punished.

An Iranian MP objected that “We cannot force people to have children with prison terms and lashes.” [17] But how else can one enforce the “culture of life”?

2016 — The Pope and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church met for the first time in history. Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill signed a document reaffirming their joint commitment to “openness to procreation” and “the inalienable right to life”, which are theology-speak for “no contraception” and “no abortion”. [18] The following year, this was followed up by a Vatican move seen to be aimed at muting anti-corruption protests in Russia. Just before the Russian elections in 2017, the Vatican lent Russia a four-inch piece of a rib of St. Nicholas. On the first day 10,000 people flocked to the Moscow church to see it, [19] and President Putin was duly photographed kissing the golden reliquary. [20] The Vatican has a large supply of relics that can be translated into political rewards for those who help enforce its doctrines. See: How anti-contraception groups hijacked the Russian health service (2017)

2019 — The anti-abortion agenda of "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" became US law under the Trump Administration, when it blocked funds for Planned Parenthood and others over abortion referrals. The new rule steered federal family planning funds under Title X to anti-abortion and faith based groups. [21]

Strategic aims of the Vatican's reproductive alliances

The point of the “culture of life” and the complicated theories that have been developed to support it appears to be simple: to boost Vatican power by preventing family planning.

The race with Islam

One front in the reproduction battle is in Africa where the Catholic Church is in a demographic race with Islam, which in 2006 gained a lead. A Vatican official said, “For the first time in history, we are no longer at the top: Muslims have overtaken us.” [22] The competition is especially pronounced in sub-Saharan Africa where Catholicism has recorded its fastest growth worldwide. In eight years the number of Catholics in Africa has increased 33 per cent. [23] And since “neither Christianity nor Islam is growing significantly in sub-Saharan Africa at the expense of the other” [24] it's clear that Church membership can only be boosted by encouraging population growth. Could this be a reason for the ban on condoms, even though they’re desperately needed to stem the tide of AIDS? [25] According to Nigerian Bishop Hyacinth Egbebo, the stakes are high: “If Nigeria falls to Islamic extremists,” he says, “all of Africa will be at risk.” [26]

Courting the Orthodox to open up Russia for future missions

A second front is in Russia and other former Eastern Bloc countries like Belarus and Georgia which are predominantly Orthodox. The Vatican has recently been courting the Orthodox patriarchs and offering them help in instituting its life-at-all-costs policies.  (See The Vatican-Orthodox alliance to boost population.) This has given the Catholic Church an opening wedge and served to mute suspicion that the Vatican’s aim was to poach for converts. The climate now appears to be quite different from even as recently as 2003 when the Vatican Foreign Minister who tried to sign a concordat with Georgia got chased out of the country by angry Orthodox demonstrators. [27] And the Vatican wants to keep these friendly relations with the Russian Orthodox Church. According to the American ambassador to the Vatican, this is why Pope Francis remained silent when Russia invased the Crimea and also when it helped the Syrian dictator slaughter his own people. [28]

Korean foothold for Catholicism in Asia

A third and little-noiced front is in South Korea, “the Asian tiger of the Church”. In 2008, the proportion of Catholics exceeded 10 percent of South Koreans, and grows by about 3 percent each year. [29] Just four years later the South Korean Supreme Court, in a  split decison, refused to liberalise the strict abortion laws. [30] The wording of the ruling may set a precedent. It was reported that, while acknowledging that pregnancy is a life-altering event for the mother, it stated that “the right to life is also acknowledged for the foetus.” [31]

Common front with Evangelicals first in the US, now worldwide

And finally, there is the USA, where the Vatican first formed its alliance with the Evangelicals. Since then religious conservatives from both groups have been successful in reducing acces to contraceptives and eliminating legal abortions in large areas of the country. In a pincher movement they have limited the “supply side” by putting pressure on the doctors, hospitals and clinics that provide abortions. In Arizona a law was passed in 2012 that could further limit access to abortion. This makes it easier for a doctor to withhold from a woman information about the condition of the foetus, or even risks to herself, which might cause her to seek an abortion. [32] At the same time the religious conservatives have been cracking down on the  “demand side” by making access to abortions more time-consuming, expensive and humiliating. [33] In Texas, which is being hailed as a model for other US states, a woman seeking an abortion is now obliged to submit to an internal examination which conforms to the legal definition of rape. [34]

In addition, there are new and ominous legal moves to define the foetus as a person. This allows foetal homicide laws which establish a competing set of rights for women. [35] Already in the US a woman has been gaoled for murder after her failed attempt at suicide led to a miscarriage. The fetal personhood strategy treats fertilized eggs, embryos and foetuses as constitutional persons, at the cost of denying full constitutional rights to pregnant women. [36]

The Vatican alliance with the US Evangelicals to outlaw contraception was a brilliant strategic move, as it has worldwide repercussions. This solidifies domestic opposition to US contributions to health clinics in developing countries and the UN population Fund. [37] It also helps cut off funding for contraception on a global scale.

Worldwide an estimated 215 million women who want to avoid a pregnancy are not using an effective method of contraception. Unintended pregnancies, in turn, lead to 125 million maternal deaths every year, most of which could be avoided by proper access to family planning. [38] What Vatican policies mean for those deprived of family planning help can be summed up in the title of a recent article: Poverty and the Pill. [39] It means needless lifelong suffering for millions. Population pressure, in turn, causes deforestation, more carbon emissions and increases climate change, in a vicious circle of human misery.


1. J. Alex Kevern and Jeremy Freese, "Differential Fertility as a Determinant of Trends in Public Opinion about Abortion in the United States", Social Science Research Network, 2014-07-07. 

2. Press release: “Additional Investments in Family Planning Would Save Developing Countries More Than $11 Billion a Year”, UNFPA, (United Nations Population Fund), 2012-11-14.

Full report: “State of world population 2012: By choice not by chance”, UNFPA, 2012-11-14.

3. “Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium”, 1994-04.

4. “That they may have life: A Statement of Evangelicals and Catholics Together”, 2006-10-10.

See also Laurie Goodstein, “Schiavo Case Highlights Catholic-Evangelical Alliance”, New York Times, 2005-03-24.

5. “Orthodox Leader Calls for Alliance With Catholics”, Zenit, 2011-03-01.

6. "Will Georgia Ban Abortions?" Eurasia Net, 2013-05-7.

7. "Israel's chief rabbis back anti-abortion group: 'Killing fetuses is murder'", Haaretz, 2013-01-02.

8. "Fight against secularism unites Jews, Catholics, Pope says", Catholic News Agency, 2013-06-24.

9. "Catholics, Baptists come together over conscience rights bill", Catholic News Agency, 2013-06-25. 

10. Didi Kirsten Tatlow, "The Vatican and the Other China", New York Times, 2013-03-18.

11. "Small Finland-based Lutheran church opposes contraception", Life Site News, 2014-09-14. 

12. "Ex-member: Church has 'blood on its hands' in death of 6-day-old", CBS, 2013-05-16. 

13. "US Lutherans approve agreement with Catholic Church", Religion News Service, 16 August 2016.

This was preceded by an initiative involving the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

"Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist", Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Lutheran Church in America, 2015.

See "Collaboration" at the very end of the document.

14. Seyla Benhabib, "Turkey’s Authoritarian Turn", New York Times, 2013-06-03.

15. Dorian Jones, "Turkey: Trying to Impose an Abortion Ban in Fact, if Not in Name?" Eurasianet, 2013-02-13. 

Constanze Letsch, "Turkish law will make legal abortion impossible, say campaigners", Guardian, 2013-02-01.

16. "Iran bans permanent contraception to boost population growth", Reuters, 2014-08-11.

17. "Iran’s baby shortage leads to a plan to ban permanent contraception", Washington Post, 2014-06-25. 

18. "Full text of joint declaration signed by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill", Catholic News Agency, 2016-02-12.

19. "St Nicholas’s rib is a gift to the Moscow faithful", Times, 2017-05-23.

20. “Putin seeks religious help to quell Russian dissent”, Times, 2017-05-29.

21. “Trump Administration Blocks Funds for Planned Parenthood and Others Over Abortion Referrals”, New York Times, 2019-02-22.

22. Richard Owen, “Islam overtakes Catholicism as world's largest religion”, Times, 2008-03-31.

23. “Number of Catholics on the Rise: Vatican Releases Statistical Yearbook”, Zenit, 2010-04-28.

24. “Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa”, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2010-04-15.

25. Ben Goldacre, “Stance makes Catholic church a major global public health problem”, Guardian, 2010-09-11.

26. “Nigerian Bishop: 'If Nigeria Falls to Islamic Extremists, All of Africa Will Be at Risk'”, Zenit, 2014-01-14.

27. Felix Corley, “Georgia: Catholics fail to break Orthodox monopoly”, Forum 18 News Service, 2003-09-25

28. “Pope Francis, like Trump, is reluctant to condemn Russia on Syria and Ukraine”, National Catholic Reporter, 2017-06-08.

29. Piero Gheddo, “Seoul, an Easter for the record books”, Chiesa, 2012-04-18.

30. “S. Korea court upholds abortion punishment”, AFP, 2012-08-23.

31. “South Korea high court recognizes unborn’s ‘right to life’”, Life Site News, 2012-08-27

32. Stephen D. Foster Jr., “Arizona Senate Passes Bill Allowing Doctors To Not Inform Women Of Prenatal Issues To Prevent Abortions”, Addicting Info, 2012-03-07. 
Sofia Resnick, “Could bans on ‘wrongful birth’ suits endanger women?” American Independent, 2012-03-21. 

33. Theodore Joyce, “The Supply-Side Economics of Abortion”, New England Journal of Medicine, 365:1466-1469, 2011-10-20.

34. Nicholas D. Kristof, “When States Abuse Women”, New York Times, 2012-03-03.

35. Rachel Watts, “Foetal homicide laws set up a competing set of rights for women”, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2012-03-15.

36. Ada Calhoun, “The Criminalization of Bad Mothers”, New York Times, 2012-04-25.

37. “A World of Harm for Women”, Editorial, New York Times, 2012-10-19.

38. “Facts on Investing in Family Planning and Maternal and Newborn Health”, Guttmacher Institute, November 2010.

39. Nicholas D. Kristoff, “Poverty and the Pill”, New York Times, 2010-05-19.



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