By Bill Miller
For over 34 years, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has been the frontline agency that provides services pertaining to population and development, reproductive health, and advocacy for human rights, poverty reduction, and the advancement of women. UNFPA works with governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in over 140 countries to offer family planning advice and materials, support healthy pregnancy and childbirth, promote voluntary family planning, and combat sexually transmitted diseases. UNFPA does NOT support abortion and does NOT encourage coercive family planning activities in any area of the world, according to the UNFPA and several international observers.
The US Congress, on a bipartisan basis, voted to fund $34 million for UNFPA. Incredulously, President Bush recently reversed that decision and pulled the funding. According to Richard Boucher, State Department spokesperson, ostensibly it is because UNFPA indirectly assists China to improve the management of programs which result in coercive abortion and enforce its one-child policy. This is a totally false premise.
In 2002, a US State Department fact-finding mission to China reported that UNFPA did not knowingly support any Chinese program related to coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization. Another fact-finding mission of nine religious leaders representing Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant groups, after investigating UNFPA in China, reported that there was “no evidence to substantiate the charges.”
Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, who two years ago did an about face to fall into line with the Administration’s edict, had previously praised the UNFPA and congratulated the organization for its successful programs when he stated that the “agency does invaluable work and critical population assistance to developing countries.”
UNFPA has amply documented that its services in China have helped moderate the draconian Chinese policy of dictating family size and forcing women to have abortions. The UN’s initiatives helped reduce the female sterilization rate by 16% and upped the use of contraceptives by 90%. The abortion ratio declined from 18 per 1,000 live births in 1998 to 11 per 1,000 live births today.
Other findings are equally impressive:
-- The share of women ages 25 to 39 receiving basic gynecological care in China increased from 32 percent to 68 percent.
-- Infant and maternal mortality rates have declined.
Tragically, the loss of $34 million (which is 10% of UNFPA’s budget) can be devastating. According to UNFPA, $34 million could prevent 2 million unwanted pregnancies, 800,000 induced abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths, and 77,000 infant and childhood deaths.
After noticing that the White House pulled another $34 million in 2002 from UNFPA and after making a visit to UNFPA projects in Senegal, Mali, Nicaragua and Timor-Leste to better understand how American contributions will help save women’s lives in developing countries, Jane Roberts of California and Lois Abraham of New Mexico launched a private program called “34 Million Friends of UNFPA” to help make up the financial loss. The goal was to get 34 million people to donate $1.00 each. Today, donations are approaching $2 million. More information on this unique program can be gleaned from www.unfpa.org.
The Bush Administration has ratcheted up the ante by threatening other groups, such as the popular and effective UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), that its financing could be in jeopardy if it continues to work with UNFPA. It is both illogical and immoral to coerce UNICEF’s maternal and child health care programs, which save thousands of lives and promote nutrition and sound health, with possibly being defunded because they coordinate with a UN agency that is wrongly perceived by ultraconservatives and UN bashers as promoting abortion.
President Bush, who deserves high marks for taking the US back into UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and for soliciting the UN to help bail the US out of the Iraq imbroglio by developing an interim government and by setting up free elections, should immediately reverse this counterproductive policy.
Arguably, over the past few years, both US stature and foreign policies have fallen to an all-time low in virtually every area of the world, especially Arab countries. Doing a 180 degree swing on UNFPA funding would help the US improve its reputation and stature internationally, show that it is a team player, provide services that will reduce the need for abortions, combat the HIV Aids epidemic, provide safe, modern and non-threatening family planning services, help empower women, and strengthen the nuclear family. 800,000 potential abortions may be riding on this decision.