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U.S. to Withhold $34 Million From U.N. Population Fund

Aid: Agency offers services in 142 countries, covering contraception to abstinence education. White House says money will go to other efforts.

July 21, 2002|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration has decided to withhold $34 million for international family planning programs administered by the United Nations, a move that delights conservatives but intensifies a battle with Congress and women's rights advocates about global assistance and reproductive health policy.

According to administration and congressional sources, the State Department will announce within the next few days that the administration will not pay its contribution to the U.N. Population Fund. The fund operates projects in 142 countries, ranging from contraception to abstinence education to gynecological services.

The decision, reached by the State Department in coordination with the White House, embraces the contention of abortion opponents and conservatives that the fund tacitly perpetuates a "one-child" policy in China that has led to forced abortions and sterilizations. They cite a provision routinely included in the foreign affairs spending bill that forbids funding of groups that allow such practices.

That view is vehemently disputed. A State Department team that traveled to China two months ago to investigate the allegations found no evidence that the U.N.'s program was linked to such abuses, according to officials in the administration and on Capitol Hill. The findings, contained in a report that has not been made public, parallel the conclusions of an investigation conducted in April by members of the British Parliament.

To try to blunt the political and practical repercussions of cutting the $34 million, the administration plans to announce that it will devote the same amount of money to other international aid efforts, possibly to the U.S. Agency for International Development, which subsidize nonprofit relief agencies operating population programs that President Bush favors.

"We'll keep the funding at the same level, but we're just not going to fund people who are involved in abortions," a senior administration official said.

The boycott of the U.N. fund is a sequel to the first substantive action of Bush's presidency. Two days after his inauguration, he banned the award of family planning grants to international groups that use other sources of money for abortion services. The ban, reversing a Clinton administration policy, was an immediate sign of support for social conservatives who helped put Bush in the White House.

The earlier ban differs from the latest move because it had a direct effect on family planning groups, not foreign governments. The U.N. fund works primarily through governments overseas.

The opposition to the U.N. fund represents an administration reversal. Last year, Bush asked Congress to devote $25 million to the program, and the administration eventually agreed with lawmakers to allot as much as $34 million this year.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has praised the program for carrying out "invaluable work."

However, abortion opponents, including the three top leaders of the House, have lobbied the administration to cut off the money, even though the program does not directly pay for abortions.

In January, the White House suspended the funding on a temporary basis, saying it needed time to examine the complaints about China.

Like many decisions under Bush, this one has been tightly held. Senior administration officials had begun to inform a few key lawmakers, and word was beginning to circulate among allies in interest groups.

Kenneth Connor, president of the Family Research Council, called the move "very sound policy" that "continues to give shoe leather to the president's pro-life commitments."

"It's also good politics. It helps the president energize his base."

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