Alex Sanger

(WOMENSENEWS)–Political pandering by the Bush administration to its anti-choice supporters once again threatens the health and lives of women and children around the globe.

President Bush decided Monday not to approve $34 million in aid for the United Nations Population Fund,which provides voluntary family-planning assistance in more than 140 nations worldwide. A bipartisan Congress appropriated the money in the fiscal 2002 budget, but Bush withheld these funds after accusations were made that the U.N. agency supports or participates in programs of coerced abortion and sterilization in China. The President’s own fact-finding team came back from China with a report that clears the U.N. agency of involvement in these activities, but Bush denied the funds anyway.

The three-member fact-finding team was established by the State Department in May, visited China and the U.N. agency programs there and sent its final report to Bush in early July. The report exonerates the U.N. agency of any part in or knowledge of coercive abortions or sterilizations. But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday that the administration had concluded that the “U.N. Population Fund monies go to Chinese agencies that carry out coercive programs.” Boucher said that as a result the United Nations Population Fund will not receive the funds and that they will be reallocated to population programs at the State Department’s Agency for International Development. USAID does not operate any programs in China or in approximately 60 other countries where the U.N. agency has a presence.

Political Agenda Gets In the Way of Facts

It’s obvious that, for this administration, both facts and women’s health take a back seat to the Republican Party’s goal to win both houses of Congress in the November elections by mobilizing the party’s anti-choice wing.

The United Nations Population Fund relies on $260 million in funding from developed countries, including most of Western Europe, to carry out its programs to improve reproductive health, stabilize population growth and enhance the status of women. In China, the U.N. assists local agencies in confronting serious reproductive health issues, including the country’s exploding HIV epidemic.

To help stem population growth, China implemented a policy whereby couples in urban areas are generally restricted to having one child, with penalties being imposed for having a second child without permission. Anecdotal evidence indicates that coerced abortion and sterilization do occur as a result of this policy, but the prevalence of these abuses of reproductive rights can only be estimated.

One measurable effect of the one-child policy is the increasing sex ratio of males to females born. In China, the ratio is about 115 males for every 100 females, as compared to 105 males to 100 females worldwide. This indicates a worrisome trend toward prenatal sex selection, in which sonograms determine the sex of a fetus and female fetuses are aborted. These are all serious issues and have been repeatedly condemned by International Planned Parenthood Federation and the United Nations.

As China Makes Progress, Funds Needed More Than Ever

While the White House is correct to join in condemning these practices, it is not correct to eliminate funding to the United Nations Population Fund just because these practices do exist in China. The U.N. agency is being punished for something that the President’s own team confirmed that it does not participate in or even know about.

The irony is that all this occurs just at the time when the Chinese government is making progress in addressing the reproductive rights issues for which it has been criticized. China just enacted a new population and family planning law that will go into effect on Sept. 1. This law forbids discrimination against, maltreatment and abandonment of baby girls, as well as the use of sonograms to determine the gender of a fetus for non-medical reasons. The law also improves benefits for the elderly and thus reduces the reliance of parents on their sons. It is hoped that this will reduce favoritism before birth for a male child.

In addition, the law affirms men’s and women’s right to reproduction and their equal participation in family planning and provides that couples may apply to have a second child. Furthermore, the new law acknowledges that individuals’ choices about contraception should be voluntary.

Though not perfect, China’s new law is a major step forward and it is a clear indication that the United Nations Population Fund’s presence in China has been a positive force for voluntary family planning. The existence of serious reproductive health problems in China should be a reason to invest in quality services there, not a reason to pull out and give up. The Bush administration knows this, as is revealed in its decision earlier this summer to provide $14.8 million for the Chinese government’s HIV-prevention activities despite documented negligence on the part of China’s Ministry of Health in dealing with contaminated blood and needles.

The U.N.’s programs are making a difference in China. U.S. support for these programs is vital. If the Bush administration were truly interested in women’s health in China, as it has professed, it would heartily support the continuance of the United Nations Population Fund’s activities there.

Alexander C. Sanger is the chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council of International Planned Parenthood Federation, Western Hemisphere Region Inc. Sanger is the grandson of Margaret Sanger, the founder of the birth-control movement in the United States and a founder of the IPPF. He is currently writing a book about the future of the pro-choice movement.

For more information:

Summary of the China delegation’s report on the
United Nations Population Fund:

United Nations Population Fund:

International Planned Parenthood Federation, Western Hemisphere Region: