Battle of Ideas: Family Planning Fund – Should the Funds be Restored?

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In 2002, the Bush administration re-imposed the Reagan-era restrictions on U.S. funding for international family planning. The particular argument put forward by the administration was that the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) monies were being used in support of China’s population-planning activities, including coercive abortion. In July 2003 the U.S. House of Representatives, by a vote of 216 to 211, rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., to restore $34 million in U.S. funding to the UNFPA.

Supporters of the amendment call the withholding of U.S. funds because of a tenuous connection to forced abortion while millions of women and children depend on UNPFA services unfair. Opponents say the program encourages abortion as a means of population control in China and elsewhere and that the United States should, therefore, not participate.


Question: Should the funds be restored?

UPI National Political Analyst Peter Roff and Jillian Jonas, a freelance journalist living in New York City, face off on opposite sides of this critical question.

Jonas: The lives of women and children around the world are at stake.

The UNFPA’s mission is to counsel women on an array of basic health and reproductive services including family planning, pre- and post-natal care, safe pregnancy/delivery, preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases and to lower maternal and infant mortality.

Operating in more than 160 countries, the UNFPA was created by a cross section of the world’s developed nations in order to combat overpopulation. The last time I checked, overpopulation is still out of control — particularly in the world’s poorest nations — while global resources are becoming increasingly scarce.

This agency has literally been the difference between life and death for millions of women and children. The World Health Organization writes, “Each year over 500,000 women die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth … most common causes of maternal death are complications of pregnancy and delivery such as hemorrhage, sepsis, complications of unsafe abortion, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and obstructed labor.”

But this fight is also about the larger question regarding whether women — all the world’s women — have the right to control their bodies. WHO estimates that “100,000 maternal deaths could be avoided each year if all women who said they want no more children were able to stop childbearing.”

According to the National Abortion Federation, a professional coalition of abortion providers, “because the administration has withheld $69 million appropriated … by a bipartisan Congress over the past two years, 4 million unwanted pregnancies, 9,400 maternal deaths and a staggering 150,000 infant deaths” could have been prevented.

The administration’s move is not only misogynistic, it’s also racist; 99 percent of these affected women live in developing nations, according to Family Health International, one of the largest nonprofit international public health organizations.

Further, it is simply spurious and a deliberate red herring to connect China’s policy to the UNFPA.

Bush’s own three-person panel, led by former Ambassador Bill Brown, which was sent to China in 2002 reported there was no substantiation for the allegations and recommended the United States release the funding. Instead, the report was quashed.

They were corroborated by both the State Department and a separate independent mission sent by the United Kingdom in May 2002, which called the UNFPA “a force for good.”

In fact, the Bush administration originally pledged money in 2001 for UNFPA, and Secretary of State Colin Powell testified in support, telling Congress, “The UNFPA does invaluable work,” giving “critical population assistance to developing countries.”

In actuality, the UNFPA has worked toward the opposite result, by convincing Chinese officials through a pilot program to stop coercive practices in 32 counties.

Limiting access for millions of women to international family planning services is not just about abortions. It’s about sentencing millions of the world’s poorest women to lives of poverty and misery simply to fulfill a domestic agenda of appeasing America’s extremist right wing.

Roff: People are not the problem.

Economists Stephen Moore and Julian Simon have shown again and again, most recently in “It’s Getting Better All the Time” published in 2000 by the libertarian Cato Institute that standards of living around the world continue to rise.

There is an obvious inequality between developed nations like the United States and the poorest nations but standards have, as Moore and Simon demonstrate, risen across the board since 1900.

The Moore/Simon analysis is in stark contrast to the gloom-and-doom “There are too many people and the world is running out of resources” argument that captured the imagination of western cultural elites in the 1960s and 1970s.

Nevertheless, the gloom-and-doom mindset, even though it has been called into serious question, continues to dominate in many world bodies. The U.N. Population Fund, as one example, continues to hold that population growth is a negative force in economic development.

Even the U.N. population division contests the UNFPA assumptions. According to one recent report from that U.N. group, as the world’s population rose from 1.6 billion to 6.1 billion in the 20th century, real world gross domestic output increased 20 to 40 times. In many developed nations, the birthrate is now at or below the replacement rate, the level at which current population remains constant.

In 1984, the Reagan administration, at an international conference in Mexico City, argued that population growth was a neutral — not negative — factor in development. As a result, the United States would be cutting off support to international organizations involved in voluntary abortion activities.

The implementing legislation for this new policy, known as Kemp-Kasten for its authors, former Rep. Jack Kemp, R-N.Y. and Sen. Bob Kasten, R-Wis., remained the law until it was revoked by a Clinton administrative order in 1993.

President George W. Bush reinstated the Mexico City policy, as it had come to be known, in 2002. By doing so he provoked the ire the of politicians and organizations that issue a call to arms anytime any support for abortion, as a right or a practice, is placed in jeopardy.

The issue, for the Bush administration and the organizations supporting the policy, is about more than forced abortions in China. The Family Research Council, a conservative social policy group, issued a lengthy paper that raised red flags about the UNFPA’s sponsorship of a program of coerced population control in Peru instituted by former President Alberto Fujimori. “Indigenous women were forced to undergo sterilization. … Between 1996 and 2000 approximately 215,000 women were sterilized. Ninety percent of them were victims of the government’s forced sterilization campaign,” the FRC monograph says in part.

Whether the UNFPA continues to provide support for forced abortions in China, as some members of Congress continue to believe, is only a small part of the larger picture. The UNFPA mindset that people are the problem rather than the solution, is not one the U.S. government should subsidize.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.