A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
THE BUSH administration's rescission of $34 million to the United Nations Population Fund is not just an international embarrassment but a threat to the lives and health of millions of women overseas. No other nation has ever pulled funding from the Population Fund, which promotes family planning, AIDS education, and improved pregnancy and childbirth conditions in 142 countries.
The claim that the Population Fund tacitly supports the coercive one-child policy in China is a canard. The Chinese program is everything that is wrong with the old numbers-driven model of population control, which went out with the UN conference on population and development in Cairo in 1994. There, 180 nations ratified a UN protocol for addressing overpopulation that stresses better education for girls, improved prenatal health care, and sustainable economic development, all of which lead to smaller families.
The Bush administration's own panel investigating the UN's role in China found no evidence of support for the one-child policy and recommended that the United States release the $34 million that Congress authorized in the foreign aid bill late last year. Decades of experience shows that the availability of safe, effective birth control is the best way to reduce the need for abortion, in China or anywhere else.
The inconvenient truth for Bush is that pulling the $34 million will have no direct effect on China because US contributions to the UN Population Fund have been withheld from China for the past eight years. But it will penalize women in 141 other countries.
Late Monday, administrative officials tried to sugarcoat the move by saying that the money will be transferred to the US Agency for International Development, which supports important social welfare programs abroad. But the UN Population Fund operates in about 60 countries - including Iran, Costa Rica, Syria, Algeria, and Tunisia - where US AID does not.
The rescission was greeted warmly by the antiabortion lobby in Washington and denounced by prochoice groups. But that is only for domestic political consumption. The UN fund has nothing to do with abortion. This cannot be stressed enough: The UN Population Fund spends no money on abortion services anywhere in the world, even where the procedure is legal.
What the Bush move really undermines is access to contraception, which broad majorities of US citizens support. The true victim of the UN fund's opponents is not abortion but the rights of poor women overseas to space the birth of their children to maximize the chances of their survival. It is the right of women to education, to self-determination, to refuse marriage at age 13, to a safe, clean place to give birth. It is time for the true nature of the UN Population Fund's opponents to be revealed.
This story ran on page A14 of the Boston Globe on 7/24/2002.
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