Fact 1: The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) does not provide or promote abortions.

Fact 2: Members of Congress may shut down the federal government today, in part because they refuse to accept fact 1.

Fact 3: If the Federal government shuts down today, trash collection in my neighborhood will cease.

Explanation of facts:

A so-called rider attached to a budget proposal by House Republicans would eliminate U.S. funding for the United Nations Population Fund (and Planned Parenthood, but that is another story) out of a mistaken belief that UNFPA supports abortion.  If a budget compromise isn’t reached today, the U.S. Federal Government will shut down.

I spoke with Sarah Craven of the United Nations Population Fund moments ago.  She, once again, reiterated that UNFPA does not fund abortions.  After all, she said, UNFPA is a part of the UN–and there are several UN members states in which abortion is still illegal.  Beyond that, UNFPA’s steering document specifically excludes abortion as a method of family planning under UNFPA’s mandate. If that were not enough to convince you that U.S. funds to UNFPA does not go toward promoting or conducting abortion, the U.S. Congress has passed several pieces of legislation since the 1970s specifically stipulating that no U.S. funds can in anyway support abortion overseas.

Still, several members of Congress–most notably Chris Smith of New Jersey–are somehow convinced that UNFPA promotes abortion. Specifically, they are concerned that UNFPA abets China’s one child policy. This is false, but you don’t have to take my word for it. In 2001, the Bush White House sent a fact finding team to investigate UNFPA in China and found, “no evidence that UNFPA has supported or participated in the management of a programme of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in China.”

Despite this finding, the United States contributions to UNFPA–which amounted to $50 million last year–go into an account that entirely separate from the rest of the UNFPA’s funding. That is so Congress can automatically deduct dollar for dollar what UNFPA spends in China, about $3-$4 million.

To recap: UNFPA is forbidden by its own founding documents and its own members to support abortion. Beyond that, there are several pieces of U.S. legislation stipulating that American funding for UNFPA cannot be used for the abortion services it does not provide.  Beyond that, U.S. funding goes into a separate account so that Congress can deduct funds for money that UNFPA spends in China, evidently not in support forced sterilization.

So we know what UNFPA does not fund.  But what does it do?  After the earthquake in Haiti, for example, the United States gave the UNFPA $1 million.  Half of this money went to purchase and distribute “emergency birth kits” that included things like sterile sheets of plastic so women don’t have to give birth on the ground; a razor and rope to cut the umbilical cord; and a bar of soap.  Women were literally giving birth on the sidewalk. At least with these kits, they have a better chance of not dying while doing so.  The other half of the money went to combat the epidemic of rape that was running rampant in displaced persons camps by installing solar powered lights near latrines and other places women gathered.

In non-emergency situations, the UNFPA’s work is mostly focused on reducing maternal mortality in places like sub-Saharan Africa. This is accomplished by running programs that help women space their births more effectively and making sure that pregnant women have access to basic pre-natal care. To reduce deaths in the delivery process, UNFPA runs programs to train birth attendants.

It is pretty basic, run of the mill stuff that makes a huge difference in communities around the world.  “Saving women’s lives and saving the lives of their babies,” says UNFPA’s Sarah Craven. “That’s what we do.”

It would be frustrating enough if only Congress were simply debating the elimination of UNFPA funding on its own terms. But the fact that certain members of Congress are determined to hold up the entire federal budget over this is simply flabbergasting. It is also completely indecent.