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U.S. Decision to Cut Off Funds to U.N. Agency Sparks Outrage

Aid: Critics charge that the move is designed to curry political favor among abortion foes.

July 23, 2002|SONNI EFRON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers and United Nations officials were outraged by the Bush administration's announcement Monday that it will withdraw $34 million in funding for the U.N. Population Fund's worldwide family planning programs because of allegations that the money indirectly supports forced abortions in China.

Branding the decision "an embarrassment and a travesty," critics accused the administration of selling out the health of poor women and children in 141 countries other than China to curry political favor with its anti-abortion supporters.

"Women and children will die because of this decision," said Thoraya A. Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund.

In a statement, the agency said that it promotes only voluntary family planning, that it does not promote abortion anywhere and that abortion rates have actually fallen in the 32 counties in China where the fund's program operates.

"It is ludicrous that because there is coercion in China--coercion we all know about and deplore--the administration is barring all U.S. support for use anywhere by the world's largest family planning organization," Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a statement. The $34 million in U.S. funds were already segregated with a "fire wall" that barred their use in China. But anti-abortion activists have been lobbying for 20 years for a total cutoff of aid to the U.N. population agency, which a National Right to Life Committee official called "a cheerleader and facilitator for China's birth-quota program, which relies heavily on coerced abortion."

"Top U.N. [Population Fund] officials have been completely cozy with China's birth-quota bosses," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the committee.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said a legal review concluded that the U.N. Population Fund's activities violate the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which prohibits U.S. funding of any organization that "supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization."

The $34 million taken from the United Nations will be funneled to the U.S. Agency for International Development for family planning services in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Angola, Myanmar and other nations where such needs are acute, Boucher said. The United States already spends $480 million a year on these efforts.

Critics charged that the review process was political and tainted. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) sent a scathing letter to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who signed the decision to cut off aid, noting that the secretary had praised the U.N. agency's work in maternal and child health care, cancer screening and HIV prevention and alleging that U.S. policy had been "hijacked by right-wing domestic policy-makers in the White House."

A Chinese Embassy spokesman said China hoped that the U.S. would reconsider.

Spokesman Xie Feng noted that China is giving birth to a population the size of Australia's every year.

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