There They Go Again

American Progress
July 16 2004

There They Go Again

by Shira Saperstein

It’s that time of year again. Every spring the White House gives its
annual sop to the right-wing by withholding funds from the U.N.
Population Fund (UNFPA). When it comes to the UNFPA, a long-time
target of anti-family planning zealots, the administration for the
third year in a row has chosen ideology and politics over research
and public health.

Last January, Congress authorized and appropriated $34 million for
the UNFPA, a multilateral agency that works with governments and NGOs
in over 140 countries. The agency helps women avoid unwanted
pregnancies, give birth safely, and protect themselves from violence
and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

One of those countries is China, where UNFPA is implementing a pilot
project in 32 counties designed to shift the country away from its
reliance on abortion and state control to a policy of high quality
family planning and individual reproductive choice. Results have been
encouraging. In those counties, the ratio of abortions to live births
declined by 30 percent. Furthermore, according to the State
Department’s 2004 Human Rights Report, 800 other Chinese counties are
now trying to replicate the UNFPA model, discarding their targets and
quota systems in favor of quality of care and informed choice.

In 2002, the Bush administration withdrew all funding for the UNFPA,
claiming that its work in China violated the Kemp-Kasten amendment,
which prohibits foreign aid funding for any organization that
“supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive
abortion or involuntary sterilization.” In 2003, the administration
again refused to release any funds, and today, it did so again.

The interpretation flies in the face of four, separate investigations
of the UNFPA’s program in China:

In 2003 a team of nine religious and faith-based organization leaders
and ethicists, representing Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant
groups, conducted a mission to China. They concluded that the UNFPA
is not involved in any forced abortion or involuntary sterilization
and is a catalyst for positive change.
In 2002, the administration sent its own hand-picked Blue Ribbon
Panel to investigate allegations of UNFPA involvement in coercive
abortion in China. The team found “no evidence that UNFPA has
knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of
coercive abortion” and recommended that the “$34 million which has
already been appropriated be released to UNFPA.”
Also in 2002, the United Kingdom sent an all-party group of three
Parliamentarians who determined that the UNFPA in China was a “force
for good.”
In 2001 the United Nations sent a high-level delegation to China that
came back with praise for the UNFPA and a recommendation for
continued support.
The UNFPA was founded in 1969, with strong leadership and support
from the United States. It is funded by voluntary contributions from
member states and depends on the global community to support its
wide-range of life-saving programs. Today, more than 130 countries
make contributions; leading donors include the Netherlands, Japan,
Norway, the United Kingdom and Sweden. Even smaller countries like
Afghanistan, Armenia and Somalia value the role of UNFPA enough to
make modest contributions. But not the United States, which once
again has isolated itself from its closest allies and the rest of the

The $34 million that the president refuses to release could prevent
two million unwanted pregnancies, 800,000 induced abortions, 4,700
maternal and 77,000 infant and child deaths. These funds would
strengthen current UNFPA programs like those to reduce maternal
mortality in Afghanistan, improve adolescent health in Vietnam, and
send desperately needed medical supplies to displaced Sudanese

This week, Congress and the White House have been nattering on about
the dangers of gay marriage to children and families in America.
Meanwhile, as a result of its decision to withhold funding for the
UNFPA, the White House will leave millions of women around the world
without access to the services they need to protect their children
and families. The administration’s stubborn refusal to consider the
evidence, work with international institutions, and see beyond its
own political blinders will cost thousands of innocent lives. So much
for compassionate conservatism.

Shira Saperstein is a visiting fellow at the Center for American