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On Feminism, Eugenics and 'Reproductive Rights'

Interview With Journalist Eugenia Roccella

ROME, JULY 13, 2005 (Zenit) - "Reproductive rights" are a means to wield demographic control in poor countries and to destroy the experience of being a woman, says journalist Eugenia Roccella.

A 1970s leader of the women's liberation movement, Roccella is the author of essays on feminism and women's literature. With Lucetta Scaraffia, she has just published the book "Against Christianity: The U.N. and European Union as New Ideology," published by Piemme.

In this interview with us, Roccella talks about the anti-birth ideology of international institutions such as the United Nations and European Union.

Q: You maintain that so-called reproductive rights are a deception to foster family planning and genetically selective births. Can you explain the evolution of "reproductive rights" and how opposition to births has been transformed into eugenics?

Roccella: What must be clarified in the first place is that so-called reproductive rights are in reality rights not to reproduce oneself, and they have been made concrete in governments' control over feminine fertility by a worldwide policy of dissemination of abortion, contraception and, above all, sterilization.

It is generally believed that the adoption of these rights by international organizations has been a victory of the women's movement. But from the documents one can see that this is not so.

Historically, the right to family planning arose from the pressure of powerful international anti-birth lobbies -- for example, the Rockefeller Foundation -- helped by the West's desire to exercise demographic control over the Third World.

Suffice it to consult the excellent documentation in the book provided by Assuntina Morresi, which demonstrates how much associations of a eugenic vein have influenced U.N. policies, through NGOs such as, for example, the IPPF [International Planned Parenthood Foundation].

Anti-birth attitudes and eugenics have been closely intertwined from the beginning: The idea of building a better world through genetic selection was very widespread at the start of the 20th century, and enjoyed great credibility even in learned circles. The objective was to prevent the reproduction of human beings regarded as second-class, namely, genetically imperfect, even through coercion.

The adoption of eugenic theories by the Nazi regime discredited the theories and elicited international condemnation. But associations born for this purpose -- among them, precisely, the IPPF -- have survived, changing their language and using, in an astute and careless way after the '70s, some slogans of the women's movement, such as "free choice."

In reality, international conferences on population, that is, on demographic control, have always preceded conferences on women, and have prepared their code words. For example, it was at the Cairo Conference of 1994 on population and development that the old "family planning" was replaced by the new definition of "reproductive rights."

The following year, the definition was uncritically accepted and appropriated by the Women's Conference in Beijing, without changing a comma.

Feminism has been, paradoxically, an easy mask to implement control practices that are often savage and violent on women's bodies, especially in Third World countries.

In the book, among other things, we illustrate some cases by way of example, such as the anti-natal policies adopted in China, Iran, India and Bangladesh, where poverty and the absence of consolidated democratic mechanisms have made women easy victims of experimentation, contraceptives dangerous to health, massive sterilizations and forced abortions.

Q: It is a widespread opinion that the feminist movement has contributed to the obtaining of women's rights. You maintain, instead, that there are ambiguities and mistakes. Could you explain what these are?

Roccella: Feminism is a galaxy of different movements and philosophies which is absolutely not homogenous.

International organizations have adopted a rigidly emancipating version which tries to equate men and women as much as possible. This is translated, for example, in the idea -- never explicitly stated but always present -- that maternity is an impediment to women's fulfillment, and not a central element of the gender's identity which must be valued and protected.

Thus, in the U.N. and the European Union an institutional feminism has been created based altogether on individual rights and parity, which has chosen reproductive rights as its own qualifying objective.

There is, instead, a feminine philosophy of an opposite sign -- the so-called philosophy of difference -- which maintains that the myth of equality prevents women from thinking of themselves autonomously, and that the sexual difference, rooted in the body, is not only a biological fact, but something that encompasses the whole experience of being woman. With this feminism, the Church has had an open dialogue for a long time; suffice it to read Pope Wojtyla's letter on the feminine genius, and especially the most recent one addressed to bishops and signed by the then Cardinal Ratzinger.

But at present, at the international level, it is the feminism "of rights" which has prevailed, imposing reproductive rights as a flag that must be flown always and everywhere. Instead, women's priorities, in the various geographic areas, are different: In Africa, there is the urgent and dramatic problem of containing birth and postnatal mortality. There is also the problem of sexually transmitted diseases and malnutrition.

In the Muslim theocracies the objective for women is legislative equality and liberation from the oppressive control over public behavior -- for example, the use of the burkha. In Europe, the problems are altogether different, and so on. The U.N. resolutions stem from the assumption that the offers of abortion and contraception are, in any context, elements of emancipation, including empowerment, that is, the enhancement of women's power.

But the concrete cases analyzed in the book show that this is not the case. In Iran, for example, programs for the dissemination of control of fertility have been very successful, but women continue to be regarded as second-class citizens, subject to masculine authority.

Q: On the great topics regarding the defense of life and of the natural family, the Holy See has often confronted the international organizations, particularly the United Nations and the European Union. You entitled one of the chapters in the book "Europe Against the Vatican." Could you explain the essence of the controversy?

Roccella: The prevailing cultural plan in Europe is a secularist extremism that regards religions as potential bearers of fundamentalist demands.

The European Union, however, adopts many precautions, both political as well as verbal, in the face of the Muslim world. They are precautions that would be comprehensible if they did not create a visible imbalance vis-ŕ-vis the Vatican, which instead is attacked with perfect serenity every time it is possible.

The result is that Catholicism appears as the bitterest enemy of woman in the international realm, because it is opposed to the ideology of reproductive rights and demographic control.

This cultural operation is resolved in a sort of suicide of identity, as has already occurred with the mention of the Christian roots in the European Constitution. ... It must not be forgotten that, from the beginning, Christianity has had an extraordinary idea of woman, and it is no accident if the fight for sexual equality has developed essentially in the Christian area.

Among all the religions, the Christian religion is the only one, for example, whose rite of initiation, baptism, is open to both sexes. Within the Catholic realm there is a strong feminist philosophy, and the two last papacies have given great cultural dignity to this philosophy.

But all this is silenced by a plan that favors the anti-religious element. The EU, even if it maintained the same policy, could modulate in a different way its attitude to the different religious creeds, fostering motives for agreement.

For example, it would be easy to find instances of unity with the Holy See on the protection of maternity, on international policies against maternal and infant mortality and on feminine schooling, or even on the recognition of women's political and economic rights.

Instead, preference is given to putting all religions in the same bag and pointing to the Vatican as the enemy par excellence of feminine emancipation.


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Reproductive, Rights, Women, Roccella, Feminism, Abortion

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