U.N. Stands for Unconscionable
Bush was right to cut off funding for the U.N. Fund for Population Activities.
Aug 5, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 45 • By J. BOTTUM
WHEN COLIN POWELL announced last Tuesday the administration's decision to shift to other organizations $34 million earmarked for the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, the reaction was apoplectic. "Bush Denies Women Health Care, Human Rights," read one editorial headline. "The World's Women Left in the Lurch," read another--and on and on: "Abortion Foes Win Counterproductively," "'W' stands for Wrongheaded," "Life-Saving U.N. Effort a Victim of White House Politics." Never mind that the funding was curtailed because the UNFPA supported China's gruesome policy of forced abortions.
Meanwhile, Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York denounced the Republicans' "mindless zeal to take care of their right-wing base." Sen. Patrick Leahy railed at the decision as "an embarrassment and a travesty." And happy with the opportunity to act as moral tutor to the backward United States, the European Union voted to replace the missing money (though carefully limiting its use to 22 former European colonies, not China), citing what the E.U. Development and Humanitarian Aid commissioner, Poul Nielson, called the "decency gap" created by the Americans.
You'd think from all of this that President Bush had declared war on half the globe. Indeed, UNFPA's executive director, Thoraya Obaid, insisted that he had, and that "women and children will die because of this decision." The Chinese Foreign Ministry, responding to the State Department's description of forced sterilizations and abortions in China, issued a diatribe against the United States. Chinese citizens' participation in Beijing's policy of one child per family is entirely voluntary, the Chinese ambassador to the United States insisted--and, anyway, the UNFPA is working in merely 32 counties in China, where the United Nations fund hopes to show that voluntary population controls work better than involuntary ones.
If this sounds like something of a contradiction--there's nothing coercive in China, except in those counties where UNFPA doesn't work--that's because it is. In the midst of the firestorm of criticism, almost no commentator noticed this wasn't merely politics for the Bush administration, some Machiavellian payoff to the president's pro-life supporters by Karl Rove, but a matter of principle. Powell is on record as being generally sympathetic to UNFPA, but his letter to Congress takes seriously the moral problem of American support for an agency implicated in China's coercive population policy--and the legal problem of adhering to the 1985 Kemp-Kasten law that prohibits funding of any organization that participates in coercive abortions and the 2000 Tiahrt amendment that prohibits American funds' being passed on to international organizations that support coercive contraception programs. Though you would never know it from the hysterical criticisms of self-proclaimed "pro-choicers," what Powell is upholding is the idea of choice.
"If there is a single principle that unifies Americans with conflicting views on the subject, it is the conviction that no woman should be forced to have an abortion," Powell insisted. "Regardless of the modest size of UNFPA's budget in China or any benefits its programs provide, UNFPA's support of, and involvement in, China's population-planning activities allows the Chinese government to implement more effectively its program of coercive abortion."
The UNFPA, it also bears noting, is not an admirable bureaucracy that just slipped up in China. Amidst all the hyperventilating about the supposed indecency of the United States, very little attention was paid to the damning report issued last week by the Peruvian government about UNFPA's collaboration in the ruthless--and racially motivated--sterilization of 300,000 rural and Indian women in Peru during the 1990s. Begun by President Alberto Fujimori with special legislation when he assumed dictatorial powers, the program officially registered UNFPA as its "Technical Secretary" for organizing what it called "ligation festivals."
While other international organizations grew increasingly queasy with the coercive and racial aspects of the project (even the Clinton-era U.S. Agency for International Development withdrew early in 1998), the U.N. fund "increased their support and even participation in the task...in the period 1995-2000." UNFPA, the Peruvian inquiry found, "brought not only special financing but also demographic goals, for the focalized reduction of the Peruvian population and the fecundity of Peruvian women."