The European Union is to fill the gap left by the US decision to stop funding
the UN's family planning organization with €32m (£20.3m) aid for sexual
and reproductive health work in 22 countries, the Guardian has learned.
The aid, to be announced later this week, will replace the $34m US contribution
to the UN Population Fund (UNPFA),
which helps poorer countries with family planning and advice on population control,
health and sexual matters.
The state department announced on Monday that George Bush was ending payment.
The president has been under pressure from anti-abortionist groups to stop funding
bodies which give advice on abortion.
The European commission will send the money to projects run by the UNPFA and
the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
Poul Nielson, the development commissioner, promised last year that the EU
would step in when the White House announced it that it would cut its funding
of organizations it suspected of encouraging abortions or sterilization.
"The losers from this decision will be some of the most vulnerable people on
earth," a commission spokesman said yesterday.
The EU's development policy gives an important place to reproductive health
education, including awareness of Aids, as an essential part of the fight against
The countries benefiting from its aid, ranging from Burkina Faso to Zambia,
have childbirth mortality rates of 500 to 1,800 in 100,000 births.
Funds will be allotted to pre and post-natal care, pregnancy counseling, and
abortion where there is risk to the mother. About 80,000 women die every year
from unsafe abortions.
The EU, worried by transatlantic disputes on defense, trade and food safety,
and a general US trend towards withdrawing from multinational cooperation, was
angered by the withdrawal of funding, describing it as "irresponsible and counter-productive.
Demands for action were led by Clare Short, the UK international development
secretary, who wanted to avoid a public row with Washington but was anxious for
the EU to play an active role in global population policy.
Mr Nielson, a former Danish development minister, argues that organizations
such as UNPFA and IPPF are part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Brussels already contributes €47m to family planning organizations, mostly
for contraception and educational work in Asia.
Mr Bush's decision, signaled on his first full working day in office last year,
reintroduces a ban first imposed by Ronald Reagan in 1984, maintained by Mr Bush's
father, then reversed by Bill Clinton.
Anti-abortion lobbyists said the money would be used in China to facilitate
forced abortions and sterilizations, although a US fact-finding mission found
no evidence that this was so. China said yesterday that the US decision would
only harm government efforts to stop forced abortions.
Its government planners admit that illegal forced sterilization. still occurs
in isolated pockets of the country because of loopholes and limited resources
in the state family planning system.
"This only serves the United States' political goals, and nothing else," an
official of the state family planning commission said.
In the US, moderate Republicans are dismayed by the decision, which they feel
could be damaging in the November mid-term elections, and could further isolate
the US from its European allies.
The UN agency's director, Thoraya Obaid, said on Monday that the decision would
cost the lives of tens of thousands of women and children.
The money would have prevented two million unwanted pregnancies, nearly 800,000
induced abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths, nearly 60,000 cases of serious maternal
illness and more than 77,000 infant and child deaths.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002