Opposition to abortion is a cornerstone of the Bush administration's appeal to religious fundamentalists who energize a conservative core constituency. But the President routinely blocks funds appropriated by Congress for the international agency that has arguably prevented more abortions than any other institution, individual, or policy.
Congress year after year votes to contribute U.S. funds to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the largest multilateral organization providing population and family planning services to the world's poorest countries. When these appropriation bills reach President Bush's desk, however, they simply die without even a pretense of explanation for their demise. All because China is one of the more than 100 countries in which UNFPA operates.
It is not that the United States and China do not get along. The two countries are relatively compatible—sufficiently harmonious, in fact, the United States is the leading importer of products manufactured in China. Trade is one matter, but reproductive health and family planning are quite another. President Bush is convinced, as were Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan before him, that China's national family planning program is driven by forced abortion and coercive sterilization. The Chinese government has denied this allegation for more than 20 years, but to no avail.
There is general agreement that China, the world's most populous country with some 1.3 billion people, employs draconian measures to put the brakes on further population growth. These have included reducing food rations, reducing residential living space and denying school choice to parents who have children beyond a couple's first child, as penalties for violating China's one-child family policy.
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It has not been clearly resolved, however, whether the Chinese national government is perpetrating force and coercion, or if such activities have been instigated by overzealous local officials seeking to limit the population size of their jurisdictions. Either way, even beyond the moral repugnance of government dictating bedroom decisions, it is a strategy that is unnecessary and likely unworkable. Studies from virtually every region of the world indicate that when couples have access to family planning information, education and supplies, they choose to limit their family size. Moreover, it defies logic to deny funds to a United Nations agency that is virtually the only institution promoting family planning volunteerism in China.
To correct the administration's wrongheaded policy, Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives calling for a $34 million fiscal year 2008 appropriation to UNFPA, which would ensure detailed presidential accountability for refusing to release these congressionally appropriated funds—as President Bush has done for the past six years.
Rep. Crowley observes that in the 32 Chinese counties that receive UNFPA assistance, not only have maternal deaths declined, but abortions have decreased from 24 per 1,000 women to 10 per 1,000 women. The latter fact should be a wake-up call to President Bush, religious fundamentalists, and other "pro-life" advocates that family planning and reproductive health constitute the first line of defense against abortion.