Pro-Life United Nations Lobbyist Earning Life Prizes Award an Unsung Hero

International   |   Samantha Singson   |   Nov 18, 2010   |   3:41PM   |   New York, NY

Delegates have again locked themselves in a UN conference room to negotiate reproductive health language. Outside, Jeanne Head, a retired labor and delivery nurse, pores over UN documents.   It’s late and cleaning crews have begun their shift around the building. But the delegates and Jeanne are just settling in for a long night.

It’s a familiar scene to UN delegates. They know Head well and that they’ll find her nearby for advice on a provision or just some background. She is a resource delegates can and frequently do turn to. 

Though she calls herself a “reluctant activist,” Head’s hard work and effectiveness earned prominent recognition Tuesday. The Gerald Health Foundation awarded her a Life Prize, given to “individuals or organizations that have achieved significant progress in promoting the sanctity of human life and are working to protect and preserve it.”

Head is known for her UN work, but it was her dream of becoming an actress that brought her to New York from the Midwest, not intergovernmental politics.  She reluctantly became more involved in pro-life work after New York passed its permissive abortion law.

Head has been present for virtually every major UN conference since 1994, when she would head straight to UN meetings from her night shift in the delivery room at St. Vincent’s hospital.

She was similarly reluctant to get involved at the UN until she saw the push to make abortion an international human right. But she did, and as a result,  “I retired from nursing in 1997, but I haven’t had time to notice.”  While her UN work is a full-time job, she is a volunteer who draws no salary from the organizations she represents, the International Right to Life Federation and the National Right to Life Committee.

Admirers point to her Catholic faith and vocation. They enable “her to help others come to a greater understanding of the paramount importance of the sanctity of all human life, especially the unborn who are the most defenseless of persons,” said Fr. Philip Bene, a delegate for the Holy See.

Another delegate told the Friday Fax, “Leaving aside Jeanne’s expansive knowledge on the UN documents and language, her mere presence – even if she doesn’t say a word – is enough to give delegates the strength they need to go on negotiating.”

Her allies take comfort in Head’s commitment. She has no plans to stop working at the UN saying, “I couldn’t do anything else. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try.”

Already, her lobbying has taken her to major UN conferences in cities ranging from Beijing, Istanbul, Rome, Cairo, and Copenhagen.  “In the end, I may never know if I made a difference,” she says.  “One thing is for sure, though, I can’t make a difference if I’m not there.”

The Gerald Health Foundation will honor her and five other winners at a January ceremony in Washington, DC. Note: Samantha Singson writes for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. This article originally appeared in the pro-life group’s Friday Fax publication and is used with permission.