Battle Still Raging Over UN Population Fund

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

CLARIFICATION: Clarifies Population Research Institute position on State Department efforts in 13th and 14th graphs.

( - A Congressional committee vote in the middle of the night has given new hope to those urging full U.S. funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Strongly supported by abortion rights advocates, the U.N. agency is criticized by conservatives for allegedly promoting China's policies of forced sterilization.

Late last week, the House Appropriations Committee voted 32 to 31 to unfreeze $34 million that Congress had previously designated for the UNFPA, but which the Bush administration had frozen. Reps. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) sponsored the amendment, which was tacked onto a supplemental appropriations bill. It represents an effort to take discretion away from the White House on the issue.

Bush froze the funds earlier this year at the urging of pro-life members of Congress who alleged that the UNFPA had helped promulgate the Chinese government's one-child policy by coercing women into involuntary abortions and sterilizations.

Last week's vote by the House Appropriations Committee has won praise from Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

"The loss of $34 million this past year has had a devastating impact on developing countries," she said. "In bowing to anti-choice lawmakers, the president has needlessly jeopardized the lives of millions of women around the world."

Michelman said the UNFPA has been unfairly labeled.

"For years, the UNFPA has been intentionally mischaracterized by anti-family planning lawmakers," she said. "The program does not fund abortions; it provides voluntary reproductive health care and family planning services to those in dire circumstances."

The Lowey/Kolbe amendment passed by the narrowest of margins because Republican Rep. George Nethercutt of Washington State missed the vote while en route to his daughter's college graduation, and GOP Rep. John Sweeney of New York "intentionally abstained" from the vote, according to the Family Research Council. Calls placed to Sweeney's office were not returned.

Connie Mackey, Vice President of Government Affairs at the Family Research Council, said pro-lifers in Congress must find a way to retain Bush's discretion on the UNFPA funding.

"George Bush Sr. never spent the money, and never funded the UNFPA. Hopefully President Bush won't either," she said. "Hopefully this amendment can be corrected in the committee somehow."

The Population Research Institute (PRI) has testified before Congress about its interviews with two-dozen people the group claims were victims of China's one-child policy. The alleged victims reported "rampant and unrelenting" abuses, including forced abortions and forced sterilizations, according to the PRI.

President Bush has dispatched a three-person team from the State Department to China to investigate the claims.

Scott Weinberg, spokesman for PRI, said he doubted the State Department would bring back enough information to clarify the issue, even though he said there's plenty of evidence available.

"We're confident that when the president looks at the evidence pouring out of China, showing UNFPA support of forced abortion and sterilization, the Congress will [enable the president to] make the decision to de-fund the UNFPA," Weinberg said. "We're confident at the end of the day, we will come out on top."

E-mail a news tip to Jason Pierce.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.