- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2008

UNITED NATIONS | Congress may have found a way to fund the U.N. Population Fund for the first time in seven years, with many lawmakers anticipating that the next U.S. president may have a different view of an organization accused by conservatives of abetting coerced abortion in the developing world.

The House Appropriations state, foreign operations and related programs subcommittee last week appropriated $60 million for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) as part of a $600 million package for international family planning and reproductive health for fiscal 2009.

Also last week, the full Senate Appropriations Committee passed a foreign operations bill with a $45 million allocation for the family-planning agency for the same budget year.

The Bush administration has effectively vetoed funding for UNFPA every year since 2001, saying that the U.N. agency, which is active in China, supports the state’s one-child-per-family policy, which entails the use of coerced abortions.

Congressional staffers from both parties said that this year, with most appropriations bills likely to be delayed until after the elections and the January recess, the UNFPA money is likely to be reviewed by Mr. Bush’s successor. Presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama is pro-choice. His Republican counterpart, Sen. John McCain, has campaigned as pro-life.

The U.N. Population Fund, formerly known as the U.N. Fund for Population Activities, works in 150 countries to reduce maternal mortality, provide reproductive-health services and reduce the spread of HIV infection. UNFPA and its local partners also provide information on and access to contraceptives, train birth attendants, address sexual violence and promote gender equality.

Its $605 million budget comes mostly from 182 donor countries, as well as private foundations, charities and contributions to trust funds for specific purposes, such as refugee care.

As in previous years, the proposed 2009 U.S. contributions are carefully earmarked for specific uses, such as safe-motherhood initiatives and reproductive-health services, according to the office of Rep. Nita M. Lowey, the New York Democrat who runs the House subcommittee.

These restrictions are aimed at easing concerns about UNFPA’s activities in China and, to a lesser extent, Vietnam, where coercive government policies also severely limit the number of children a family may have. Officially, UNFPA does not endorse one- or two-child policies, but like all U.N. agencies, it defers to national laws.

A 2002 State Department assessment found that UNFPA programs in China neither condoned nor knowingly supported abortions or sterilization. Nonetheless, U.S. funds have been prohibited for use in China on the theory that money freed up by UNFPA can be used for abortions.

Conservatives and pro-life groups are concerned about the future.

U.S. money should not go to UNFPA because its China program is “partnering with the oppressor, not the oppressed,” says Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, a prominent member of Congress’ pro-life caucus.

“UNFPA admits that they train, provide manuals and materials to the family-planning cadres in China,” a country he visited just last month, he said.

Even if the U.N. agency does not educate directly about abortion, he added, its “presence is … a whitewash of the government’s crimes against women.”

“There is no question that China is involved [in forcing abortion], and UNFPA assists,” added Wendy Wright, president of the Washington-based Concerned Women for America. “In the seven years that Washington has not been funding UNFPA, there has been no weakening of China’s laws or enforcement of China’s one-child policy.”

However, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat, whose district includes the United Nations, praised Mrs. Lowey for nearly doubling the normal UNFPA appropriation, and said the anticipated restoration of funds will “help reverse years of misguided global health policies and restore good health to millions of women around the world.”

The money “demonstrates the majority’s commitment to improving the health of the world’s women and children,” she added.

President Bush, immediately after his 2001 inauguration, announced that he would use a 1985 provision called the Kemp-Kasten law to strip out funding for any foreign organization that does not repudiate abortion.

The U.S. has traditionally contributed $34 million annually to the population fund. Because the payments are voluntary, Washington is not considered to be in arrears. However, American Friends of UNFPA, a Washington-based group that collects tax-deductible donations and seeks to ease uniquely American concerns about the agency, estimates that lost U.S. donations top $238 million.

The White House has redirected that money to other nongovernmental organizations and groups that promote maternal heath and family planning but oppose abortion

Although UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid spent several days last week in Washington, she was unwilling to comment on the U.S. budgeting process.

Spokesman Abubakar Dungus said this week that the agency hopes the United States will “again join the other 182 countries that contribute to the work of UNFPA to ensure that no woman dies as she brings life into the world, to ensure that each pregnancy is intended and wanted.”

The United States continues to sit on the 32-nation governing board of UNFPA.

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