No U.S. Funding for Reproductive Health…Again

Over at his blog, On the Ground, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is incensed that the Bush administration has, for the seventh consecutive year, decided to withhold any funding for the United Nations Population Fund. He’s not alone, as voices on the Hill are already registering their outcry. Why would the U.S. object to helping fund an organization that provides reproductive health services for women across the world (not to mention assistance in development, human rights, and gender equality initiatives as well)? Kristof explains:

The reason given for withholding the U.S. funds is that the Population Fund (universally called UNFPA, after its old acronym) supports forced abortions in China. Even if that were true, it would be ridiculous to withhold funds for UNFPA activities against maternal mortality in Africa because of its work in China. But in any case, UNFPA has been a major force against compulsion of any kind in China, as the U.S. blue-ribbon committee that investigated the charges found. In the areas in China where UNFPA set up a model program, there is no compulsion and the abortion rate is lower than in the U.S.

It seems that the administration is assuming that, simply because China has a one-child policy — and because yes, like everywhere else in the world, some women in China do get abortions — that abortions there must be non-voluntary, and that the UNFPA, merely by operating in the country, is guilty by association. This logic is clearly flawed, its assertions are wholly unsubstantiated by the evidence, and, perhaps worst of all, it contradicts the findings of the U.S. government's own investigative panel. Moreover, as Kristof suggests, depriving UNFPA of support for any of its work — even in places like Africa, where President Bush has trumpeted his development efforts, such as PEPFAR, as a staple of his legacy — out of either political or ideological posturing makes for nonsensical policy.

Cross-posted on On Day One.

UPDATE: Tamara Kreinin, the Executive Director of the Women and Population program at the United Nations Foundation, issues a strong statement on UNFPA funding (read it below the fold).

UPDATE II: As commenter Tyler LePard notes, the news only gets worse. Check out Craig Lasher’s post over at RH Reality Check for more.“The United Nations Foundation joins the international community in expressing its deep disappointment that the administration has decided–for the seventh straight year–to withhold the $39.7 million authorized by Congress to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the world’s leading voice on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

“In a statement notifying Congress of the administration’s decision to withhold funds from UNFPA, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte once again cited UNFPA’s program in China as a violation of the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which bars funding for programming that “supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive or involuntary sterilization.”

“UNFPA does not–and has never–supported coercive or involuntary sterilization. In fact, the decision to withhold funds from UNFPA is inconsistent with the reports from the State Department and several other blue-ribbon investigative teams, which included descriptions of UNFPA’s work as “a force for good” in China.

“Working in 150 countries, UNFPA is on the front lines reducing maternal and infant mortality, decreasing HIV/AIDS rates, and protecting women and girls from rape and violence, particularly during conflict situations. The $34 million that the United States has withheld each year is close to 10 percent of UNFPA’s regular income. The amount withheld every year could have helped UNFPA prevent 2 million unintended pregnancies, 800,000 abortions, 4,700 mothers’ deaths, and more than 77,000 infant and child deaths. Approximately 181 industrialized and developing countries, including all the countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, contribute to UNFPA. The United States is the only country to withhold funding for political reasons.

“The UN Foundation is looking forward to working with the next administration to restore funding for UNFPA and to strengthen the U.S.’s role as a global health leader. During the 2000 UN Millennium Summit, the United States pledged to work to respond to the world’s most pressing development challenges, including poverty, gender inequality and disease. It is past time that the administration acknowledges how fundamental UNFPA is to addressing these global challenges and that the U.S. funds UNFPA’s work.