So the House Foreign Affairs Committee is voting on a “mark-up” of the parts of the Foreign aid budget that deal with funding the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). The discussion has basically turned into a handful of Republicans insisting that UNFPA supports China’s one child policy and a handful of Democrats saying that’s not true.

It’s become a referendum on the question of whether or not UNFPA supports China’s one child policy.

So what side is to be believed? Let me present the evidence for the contention that UNFPA supports forced abortion in China:

Members of Congress seem to think so.

And the evidence against:

For one, here is a Bush era State Department report from a fact finding mission to China in 2002

First Finding
We find no evidence that UNFPA has knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in the PRC.

First Recommendation
We therefore recommend that not more than $34 million which has already been appropriated be released to UNFPA.

Second Finding
We find that notwithstanding some relaxation in the 32 counties in which UNFPA is involved the population programs of the PRC retain coercive elements in law and in practice.

Second Recommendation
We therefore recommend that unless and until all forms of coercion in the PRC law and in practice are eliminated, no U.S. Government funds be allocated for population programs in the PRC.

Third Finding
We find that with a population of 1.3 billion, PRC leaders view population control as a high priority and remain nervous as they face many imponderables concerning population growth and socioeconomic change. Decisions made now and in the future by the PRC could have unintended consequences. Moreover, PRC population matters affect major U.S. policy concerns and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Third Recommendation
We therefore recommend that appropriate resources be allocated to monitor and evaluate PRC population control programs.

Partly based on this report, current US policy is to automatically deduct what UNFPA spends in China from US contributions to UNFPA.  But that convoluted solution does not seem to be enough. Rather, members of congress are seeking to fully cut about $50 million for maternal and child health programs around the world.

Here’s a quick explanation of what UNFPA does and does not do with American taxpayers’ dollars from a post I wrote a couple of months ago. There’s more evidence on the “UNFPA Does Not Support China’s One Child Policy” side of the ledger.

NFPA’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 legislationsince 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 2002, 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.

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