United Nations conference cancels ‘pro-life,’ ‘pro-family’ workshop it says wasn’t inclusive

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) In this June 19 file photo, Abortion-Free Utah Chairwoman Merrilee Boyack expresses her desire to end abortion in the Beehive State at a state Capitol news conference.

The United Nations Civil Society Conference hosted in Salt Lake City this week has canceled a workshop that panelists describe as “pro-family” and “pro-life” but that conference organizers felt was not “well rounded” and inclusive.

Family Watch International Executive Director Merrilee Boyack, who was involved in organizing the panel on The Family and Protection of Life, Women and Girls in Sustainable Communities, received notice Saturday evening that the workshop would not be going forward.

“They said it was not well rounded and that it was too controversial,” said Boyack, who also leads the group Abortion-Free Utah. “I’m like, which part was too controversial? That we want to protect women? That we want to protect girls? No, I’m sure it was that we wanted to protect babies. But this is really astounding and very unprofessional.”

Boyack said her organization has been involved with the United Nations for two decades and has never had a workshop cancelled. Other groups involved in the panel were the Marriage Law Foundation, the African Women’s Global Initiative, the Pregnancy Resource Center and Pro-Life Utah.

Matthew Rojas, a spokesman for the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office, which is helping organize the three-day conference, said the workshop committee had erroneously sent the group an approval when it should have given them an opportunity to rework the panel, Rojas said.

Once that error was discovered, the workshop committee reached out to Family Watch International and the other groups involved to address the miscommunication.

“We are sorry for the miscommunication in notifying them late and not giving them the opportunity to sort of have that,” he said Monday. “The group members who were going to be on the panel, the groups that they were representing have a history of not being inclusive. There were not other voices on that panel talking about a really complicated issue. That was really where the concern came down for the workshop committee.”

A representative of the workshop committee told Boyack, in an email she shared with The Salt Lake Tribune, that there was a belief the workshop was not “well rounded enough” and that there “is too much controversy around the issue today.”

“We’d prefer to table this for a later discussion,” she said, but encouraged group members to “consider joining us still and finding other ways to voice your opinions through other interactive sessions offered.”

Family Watch International is an Arizona-based organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as an anti-LGBT extremist group.

Boyack says the workshop was supposed to explore the best policies to protect women and girls, look at the factors that lead to abuse or neglect and examine the role the family plays in equality, protecting the human rights of women and preventing violence.

Cancellation of the workshop, she contends, represents “viewpoint discrimination” and calls into question one of the major themes of the conference: inclusivity.

“That’s the whole fundamental basis of this event and yet they are not including our pro-family, pro-life voice,” she said. “We’re being silenced. It’s pretty shocking.”

Family Watch International’s workshop on sexuality education and on emerging technologies and the impacts of pornography on children were not canceled and will go forward. Rojas noted that the conference does not include any pro-choice panels.

Conversations at the panel are meant to center on the organization’s sustainable goal No. 11, which seeks to make cities “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable by 2030” and to boost access to affordable housing, transportation and green and public spaces.

The United Nations Civil Society Conference, which runs through Wednesday, marks the first time a major U.N. event has been hosted in the United States outside the organization’s headquarters in New York City. The event is expected to bring an estimated 5,000 people to the Salt Palace Convention Center downtown from more than 130 countries around the world.