UNFPA Funds Withheld Again

By Rachel Walden |

President Bush has decided for the seventh year to withhold funds allocated to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which conducts global work on issues such as reducing obstetric fistula, increasing access to contraception and family planning, HIV prevention, and improving obstetric care.

The administration has withheld funds allocated by Congress to UNFPA since 2002, citing concerns that UNFPA work in China was supporting forced or coerced abortions. However, a report delivered to the President in that same year resulting from a fact-finding mission to China stated that “We find no evidence that UNFPA has knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in the PRC.” At that time, it was recommended that all of the allocated funds be released to the UNFPA for its global work, while withholding funds specifically from programs in China.

As last week’s Department of State release indicates, “We are prepared to consider funding UNFPA in the future if its program in China is ended or restructured in a way consistent with U.S. law, or if China ends its program of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization.” They also cite the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which provides that no international assistance funds “may be used to pay for the performance of abortions as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.”

Aside from the report on UNFPA’s work in China contradicting the stated rationale for withholding funds, why withhold all of the money from the organization because of the policies of one nation where it works, reducing its ability to work on reproductive health issues worldwide? Nicholas Kristof notes this problem in a commentary for the New York Times, arguing that it “would be ridiculous to withhold funds for UNFPA activities against maternal mortality in Africa because of its work in China.” Kristof also asks:

UNFPA convinced China in 1992 to switch to a more effective but more expensive IUD, averting half a million abortions each year, 5 million abortions a decade. Does any anti-abortion group have that good a record?

The administration, however, may be looking to extend this leap in logic. Craig Lasher of Population Action International writes for RH Reality Check that:

“The Bush administration has threatened to dramatically expand the interpretation of the Kemp-Kasten amendment, which prohibits U.S. funding to organizations that support coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. Until now, Kemp-Kasten has only been used to withhold funding from UNFPA. Now there’s a threat to cut off funding to other organizations solely because they operate health programs in China.”

See his post for further discussion of this issue, and this PAI fact sheet for information on how UNFPA has worked to improve family planning options in China.

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2 Comments

  1. Jane Roberts says:

    Americans can actually do something very concrete to counter this egregious action of withholding funds from the UN Population Fund for the 7th year in a row. They can join 34 Million Friends, http://www.34millionfriends.org. We are saving women’s lives, sending a positive message to the world from the American people and shaming the Bush Administration. Please be one of 34 million!