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Twisted Population Priority

June 24, 2004

It's hard to overstate the threat posed by global overpopulation. Many of the most serious problems facing the world and region can be traced to it, from global warming to famine to traffic jams on the 405. Yet one of the most effective programs for combating it is under siege by the Bush administration.

In a triumph of ideological obsession over rationality, antiabortion advocates, who often oppose any form of family planning, are zeroing in on the United Nations Population Fund.

The fund does not support or promote abortions, though its foes desperately try to link it to them.

The Bush administration cut off all U.S. contributions (which added up to $34 million the previous year) to the fund in 2002 and, a year later, defunded Marie Stopes International, a British charity focusing on AIDS programs, because it cooperated with the program. Earlier this month, for the first time in 30 years, the U.S. government failed to participate in the Global Health Conference because it included speakers from the fund.

Now the administration is engaging in a new round of election-year pandering by threatening to terminate financing for UNICEF and the World Health Organization unless they stop cooperating with the fund.

The administration suspended financial support for the program under the provisions of the 1984 Kemp-Kasten bill, which authorizes withholding of funds if an agency "supports or participates" in coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization. In President Bush's contorted logic, a few computers and automobiles provided to the Chinese government by the U.N. agency constituted support for the country's coercive abortion programs.

Bush ignored the fact that, according to a State Department investigative team's 2002 report on the U.N. agency and China, "no evidence" links the U.N. program to any coercive programs. Similarly, a British investigative team concluded that it was "a force for good" in China.

Though the Chinese government's "one child" policies are reprehensible, the U.N. program has actually served to dramatically reduce female sterilization, abortion and infant mortality rates there. Further, although family planning opponents have used the program's activities in China as an excuse to cut off funding, the population fund has had similar success in 140 other countries where it distributes contraceptives and educational materials on HIV.

As Secretary of State Colin L. Powell observed in 2001, the fund is performing a valuable service. The Bush administration is not only giving the United States a fresh international black eye by attacking the U.N. and other programs that work with the population fund, it is, perversely, encouraging the spread of squalor, misery and death in the Third World.

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