US funding blow to family planning

Posted: 23 July 2002

Despite pressure from population, women's rights, medical, religious and health groups, US President George W. Bush has decided not to grant the UN Population Fund the $34 million dollars appropriated by Congress for 2002.

Commenting on the decision, UNFPA said it will cost thousands of women and children their lives.Thoraya ObaidMs. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund. She is the first Saudi Head of a UN agency.

The Executive Director of UNFPA, Ms. Thoraya Obaid, said: "The denial of these funds will, unfortunately, significantly affect millions of women and children worldwide for whom the life-saving services provided by the UNFPA will have to be discontinued. Women and children will die because of this decision."

UNFPA operates projects that provide contraception and gynaecological services, teen-pregnancy prevention and HIV/AIDS prevention in 142 countries.

The $34 million from the United States would have allowed the agency to prevent 2 million unwanted pregnancies and more than 77,000 infant and child deaths, UNFPA estimates.

"We regret this decision by the Administration and hope that the United States will reconsider its stand and rejoin the community of nations working through UNFPA to save women's lives, to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and to improve the quality of life for hundreds of millions of the world's poorest people," Ms. Obaid said.

China link

The Bush Administration, in withholding funds, accepted allegations that UNFPA gives tacit support to China's one-child policy just by working in China.

"UNFPA has not, does not and will not ever condone or support coercive activities of any kind, anywhere," Ms. Obaid said.

"UNFPA has been and remains steadfast as a leading voice for human rights and for the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the Programme of Action agreed at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994, all of which condemn coercion in all forms," she added.

Ms. Obaid stressed that the Fund's programme in China strictly observed the highest standards of human rights and that the participation was voluntary.

The United States is the only country ever to deny funding to UNFPA for non-budgetary reasons.

UNFPA is the world's largest multilateral source of population assistance, with programmes in 140 countries in 2001. Since it became operational in 1969, the Fund has provided some $5.6 billion to developing countries to meet reproductive health needs and support sustainable development.

Déjà vu

In a separate reaction, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) said the decision was a case of cruel déjà vu. IPPF had felt the devastating impact of such cuts more than once.

  • In 1984, Ronald Reagan introduced the Mexico City Policy, which denied US funding to non-US agencies linked in any way to abortion-related services. Agencies were not even allowed to provide counselling on abortion as a choice. As a result, IPPF lost a quarter of its income.

  • On January 22, 2001, President Bush reinstated the policy which Bill Clinton had repealed in 1993. Again, IPPF lost millions of dollars.
These cuts have resulted in the closing of programmes and reduced services to the world's poorest women and men, while women in the United States have always had access to safe and legal abortion, as well as the benefits of the freedom of speech.

"Now the Bush administration has reprised these horrific funding cuts. UNFPA has predicted that this action will result in 2 million unwanted pregnancies by curtailing the organisation's work," the IPPF statement said.

"Denying these women the ability to control their own reproduction condemns many to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and, in many cases, death," said IPPF's Director-General Designate, Steven Sinding.

China's response

Chinese officials rejected the accusations of coercing women to terminate pregnancies, saying the fund's resources were used only for education, birth control, check-ups and equipment. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan also expressed his disappointment at the US action, saying the UNFPA "does not go around encouraging abortions".

The US State Department said the money would go to other family planning programmes run by a US agency. Spokesman Richard Boucher said the decision was taken because the funds "go to Chinese agencies that carry out coercive policies", such as abortion and forced sterilisation.

But Chen Shengli from China's State Family Planning Commission said all the UNFPA funds were spent on family planning projects, which did not include abortions. "I can guarantee there's absolutely no such thing happening," he said. "How can I guarantee this? Because we carefully inspect the 32 counties [which receive UN funding] and we have requirements for them," he said. "The UN Population Fund also often visits the counties... They know there are no such occurrences."

As UNFPA and IPPF grapple with the reality of 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS and 600,000 women dying every year in childbirth, IPPF urges the US Government to reconsider this 'draconian action' and calls on international stakeholders to support the world's two largest and most effective international organizations delivering family planning and reproductive health care to poor women around the world.

  • In a move to fill the 'decency gap' left by the US Administration's intention to end its support for UNFPA, Member States of the European Union have approved a grant of 32 million euros (around US$30m.)in support of sexual and reproductive health in 22 developing countries.

    The joint EU-ACP programme in Africa and the Caribbean is being launched in partnership with UNFPA and IPPF.

    Welcoming the green light for the programme, the EU Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, Paul Neilson, said the losers from the US decision "will be some of the most vulnerable people on this planet. Reproductive health services are crucial elements in the fight against poverty and the UNFPA and IPPF deserve strong support to continue their activities."