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Repub Congress Blocks Money For UN Population Fund

by Katrin Dauenhauer and Jim Lobe

Bush Declares War On Women's Rights
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- In a close 216-to-211 vote on July 15, the House of Representatives adopted the Smith Amendment, which blocks the United States from contributing any funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Anti-abortion forces led by New Jersey Republican Rep. Christopher Smith stripped a provision from the 2004 State Department authorization bill that would have granted UNFPA a total of $100 million over the next two years.

"The House has again missed an opportunity to replace a failed policy with a successful one," said Amy Coen, president of Population Action International (PAI). "Supporting UNFPA is supporting a great, but largely untold, success story -- the story of how access to family planning saves and improves lives."

Many House members agreed. "This is a sad day for women around the world," said Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York. "UNFPA saves thousands of women's lives each year by giving aid to pregnant women in countries where unhealthy pregnancies are common, yet the world's superpower has chosen to turn its back on women in less prosperous countries."

"The other side misled members of Congress and the American people about the meaning of this vote," Maloney said. "We suffered a disappointing, bitterly close loss on the House floor today, but more importantly, the women of the world have suffered an even greater loss."

The bill would have authorized $50 million per year for fiscal years 2004 and 2005 to UNFPA, the preeminent global source of multilateral funding for family planning and maternal health programs.

At the same time, the passage of the bill would also have clarified a 1985 law, called the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which enabled President George W. Bush to deny funds for UNFPA last year because of its activities in China.

Kemp-Kasten prohibits U.S. aid money to go to "any organization or program which, as determined by the President of the United States, supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization."

In the broadest interpretation of Kemp-Kasten ever, Bush ruled last year that UNFPA's support for China's Health Ministry, which, in some counties in China, subsidizes hospitals that perform coercive abortions or sterilization, disqualified it from any U.S. aid.

Contrary to earlier administrations -- Democratic and Republican alike -- Bush insisted on a complete defunding of UNFPA, instead of following his predecessors and simply subtracting the amount of money the agency spends in China each year.

UNFPA's annual budget is about $350 million, which means that Bush's refusal to disburse the $34 million dollars approved last year resulted in an 10 percent cut in its spending.

UNFPA officials estimate that the lost 34 million would prevent two million unwanted pregnancies, nearly 800,000 induced abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths, nearly 60,000 cases of maternal illness or disability, and 77,000 infant and child deaths.

Under the new provision, called the Crowley Amendment after its sponsor, New York Democratic Rep. Joseph Crowley, contributions to UNFPA would have been cut off only if it "directly supports or participates in coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.."

The companion bill in the Senate was sponsored by California Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer, who argued in part that the policy was contrary to both U.S. First Amendment rights and the right of women to receive the best medical advice from their doctors.

A strict interpretation of the policy would bar any foreign beneficiary of U.S. population aid from testifying before their own legislatures in favor of easing legal curbs on abortion or informing patients who may have suffered rape about the availability of abortion services.

"Because of the politics in this country, we have a very unfortunate policy right now worldwide, that says to the private non-profit organizations that are helping the poorest of the poor that they cannot use their own money to advocate for changes in the abortion laws of their own country," Boxer said. "Worst of it all, they may not use their own money to provide full and accurate medical information about what options a women has."

UNFPA's multi-faceted work helps women in the world's poorest countries plan and space the number of children they wish to have.

Contrary to the Bush administration's accusation that it supports coercive abortion, a special State Department investigation last year found explicitly that UNFPA does not provide direct support for abortion services in China or anywhere else.

Indeed, it found that UNFPA has tried to coax health authorities in China where coercive practices persist into stopping.

In the run-up to the vote in the House today, population activists were mobilizing allies in the environmental, human rights and public health communities to lobby their representatives.

"UNFPA is the place where the help arrives to the poorest of the poor countries," including those which do not receive U.S. bilateral population aid, noted Bob Perciasepe, vice president for the Audubon Society.

The effort was also supported by the "34 Million Friends" Campaign founded by two grassroots activists who, outraged by Bush's cancellation of UNFPA's funding, have raised more than a million dollars in small contributions over the past year for the UN agency.

Yet all lobbying efforts seem to have remained unheard.

Despite the negative outcome of the vote today, however, "the closeness of the vote demonstrates that representatives from both sides of the aisle question this Administration's policy toward UNFPA," said Terri Bartlett, vice president for public policy at PAI.

At the same time and not surprisingly, the refusal to resume UNFPA funding met with strong criticism and disappointment.

"Today in the House of Representatives, politics prevailed over doing the right thing for the world's poorest women. Once again the House has taken a giant leap backwards," said Bartlett. "We are, and the American public should be, very disappointed."

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Albion Monitor July 17, 2003 (

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