Media Coverage

Bush, US Policy Assailed at UN Population Conference (CNSNews)

By Alison Appelbe
CNSNews.com Correspondent
November 25, 2002

Vancouver, B.C. (CNSNews) - The Bush administration's withdrawal of support for a United Nations program family planning program, along with recent cuts to international family-planning associations, drew sharp criticism at a UN gathering in Canada late last week.

Elected officials from 71 countries met in Ottawa Nov. 21 and 22 in an effort to step-up support for "family planning" services for an estimated 350 million women and men worldwide who have little or no access to birth control or family planning.

On many minds was President Bush's decision to withhold $34.5 million from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the conference host, after testimony that the organization supports forced abortions in some countries.

The Population Research Institute, a pro-life organization, offered testimony to Congress that UNFPA was using some of its resources to back forced abortions in China.

Several Republicans, led by Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, told Congress that the UNFPA program violated the Kemp-Kasten amendment, a 1984 provision that prohibits foreign operations money from going to any organization that "supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization."

But those findings were strongly disputed by several who attended the Ottawa meeting last week.

British Labour Party Member of Parliament Chris McCafferty was one of three British MPs who traveled to China last spring to investigate allegations that the UNFPA supported forced abortions.

McCafferty said after a week of what she called an unimpeded investigation, all three MPs, one of whom is a Conservative and Catholic, released a joint statement that forced abortion is a thing of the past in China, and that the country is moving away from its one-child policy.

However, the U.S. State Department remains concerned that the UNFPA's program in China supports reproductive health and family planning programs that are coercive by the very nature of the "social compensation fees" that couples are required to pay for births that exceed the long-held one-child policy.

"These fees are so draconian and excessive that avoidance of these penalties can and does lead to unwanted and involuntary abortion and sterilization," a State Department official stated.

Even though a recent State Department delegation to China also found no evidence that forced abortion is still carried out, the U.S. government did not restore the UNFPA funding. A department spokesman explained that the Bush administration "decided to interpret (the report) differently."

The U.S. then redirected $34 million to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), funding McCafferty claimed would be spent mainly on other types of development programs.

However, the State Department has indicated that the funding will be directed entirely to family planning. "The U.S. Government remains the world leader in providing family planning and reproductive health assistance," the official added.

But that's not enough for McCafferty and other international critics. "It's absolutely clear that, apart from the Vatican, the U.S. stands alone on the issue," said McCafferty, who chairs Britain's parliamentary committee on development and reproductive health.

Dr. Steven Sinding, newly appointed director-general of the London-based International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and a former USAID executive, commended Congress for the money it has appropriated, but reported that slightly more than 1.1 percent goes to reproductive services, which he called unacceptable.

In a keynote address, Sinding also challenged the U.S. claim that the UN's 1994 Cairo Agreement encourages abortion and called such claims "a systematic and sustained attack" on efforts to provide services to women around the world. An estimated 58 million dies annually because of birth-related causes.

"The (Cairo) program of action is not, as the United States would like us to believe, a radical agenda," he said.

"It's the carefully negotiated consensus of 170 member states, all trying their best to safeguard their cultural and religious traditions while recognizing the importance of ensuring that women and men (can) safely and effectively pursue their right to determine the number and spacing of their children, and be protected from sexually transmitted diseases," Sinding added.

His criticism of U.S. policy didn't end with cuts in funding to the UN and IPPF. "During the World Summit for Children this past May, the U.S. delegation strenuously objected to the use of agreed Cairo language - the terms 'reproductive health services' and 'reproductive rights' - because they said these terms connote abortion."

Sinding also took issue with the U.S. emphasis on abstinence as a form of birth control, stating that the policy "will not save hundreds of thousands of young people from having unwanted pregnancies or contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted infections."

The conference was told that more than half the world's population is now under the age of 25, and more than half of new HIV cases affect this population.

In its concluding document, the Ottawa delegates urged "donor" countries to allot between five and 20 percent of their overseas development aid to reproductive services.

Lawmakers Meet in Ottawa to Promote Reproductive Health

OTTAWA, Nov. 21 (Xinhua) - More than 130 parliamentarians from 70 countries gathered here Thursday to discuss ways for promoting reproductive rights and expanding access to reproductive health care.

At the opening session of the International Parliamentarians' Conference held at Canadian Parliament, Thoraya Obaid, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that access to reproductive health care is a matter of life and death. She said about 58 million women give birth each year without any medical help and 350 million women are denied access to safe and effective family planning methods.

"We cannot confront today's massive challenge of poverty, hunger, disease and environmental destruction unless we address the issues of population and reproductive health," stressed Obaid.

Parliamentarians at the conference will discuss how they can help secure funding and strengthen laws, policies and services so that all women and men can enjoy the right to reproductive health.

The sexual and reproductive rights of adolescents are of particular concern to lawmakers since half the world's population today is under 25 and half of all new HIV infection are among young people aged 15-24 with girls at particular risk.

A Chinese delegation led by Peng Peiyun, Vice President of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, is attending the two-day conference.