Sun, Jul 18, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US turns back on UN population fund

HEALTH RESOURCES The UN agency said the withheld money could have saved the lives of nearly 82,000 women and children, as well as preventing many abortions


The US administration will withhold US$34 million in congressionally approved assistance to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) because it believes the fund helped China manage programs that involved forced abortions, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said.

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, the executive director, called the US allegations baseless.

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

Powell said in a letter to the US Congress on Friday that President George W. Bush's administration would continue to help women and children around the world through other programs.

The UN group estimated the money blocked by the Bush administration could have helped prevent 2 million unwanted pregnancies and nearly 800,000 abortions, 4,700 mothers' deaths in childbirth and more than 77,000 infant and child deaths.

The withholding of the money was criticized by Tim Wirth, president of the UN Foundation and Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, as well as several members of Congress.

"This decision is clearly based on politics, not on public health," Feldt said.

Wirth, a former Democratic senator, called the decision a disappointment to everyone who cares about women's health, maternal mortality, HIV-AIDS prevention "and, frankly, to all of us who are concerned about international cooperation as well as America's reputation in the world."

Democratic Representative Car-olyn Maloney noted that this was the third year the Bush administration had blocked congressional assistance to the UN fund. She said the State Department's own investigators found two years ago there was no evidence linking the fund to any coercive abortion programs in China.

And Democratic Representative Nita Lowey said, "The administration has made the shortsighted decision to withhold assistance to all of UNFPA's 136 country programs unless UNFPA withdraws from China or, unbelievably, unless China changes its national laws."

"This decision will not help Chinese law," she said.

"It will only hurt the poorest women and children around the world," she said.

But Republican Representative Chris Smith applauded the decision, saying the fund "continues to be guilty of shamelessly supporting and whitewashing terrible crimes against humanity."

Powell told Congress that the administration remains committed to women's reproductive health, as to other health programs.

The US is the largest donor of bilateral assistance to help improve the health of women and children and is providing more than US$1.8 billion this year through a US Agency for International Development fund, spokesman Richard Boucher said.

This, he said, includes US$429 million for reproductive health, including family planning.

Disputing contentions the UN fund did not assist China in coercive abortions, Boucher said the State Department had concluded that "money for the UN Population Fund improved the management of Chinese programs that led to coercive abortion practices."

The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee, meanwhile, has blocked a proposal by Lowey to spend US$25 million on a family planning program by the UN in Iraq, Afghanistan and four Asian and African countries.

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