President Bush is supposed to be a compassionate conservative. He claims he wants to fight global poverty. He dislikes abortion.
So there is only one word for his decision this week to withhold $34 million that Congress had budgeted for the United Nations' family-planning agency. That word is hypocrisy.
This decision will deprive thousands of poor women around the world of health and family-planning services, which in turn will lead to more abortions. In Algeria, a program to train midwives will be curtailed; so will programs to train doctors to deal with difficult pregnancies in Bangladesh.
Bush's decision was driven by allegations that the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) supported forced abortions in China - charges made by the most extreme wing of the U.S. antiabortion movement. The administration knew - from its own fact-finding team - that the charges lacked any merit.
But with congressional elections coming up, and Republicans on the defensive, every core conservative vote counts.
Last year Bush himself asked for $25 million for UNFPA activities. Congress upped that to $34 million. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Senate that UNFPA's work in maternal and child health care, voluntary family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention was "invaluable."
Then, a tiny far-right group called the Population Research Institute (PRI), backed by Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.), charged that UNFPA was promoting the cause of forced abortion and sterilization in China. UNFPA, which works in more than 139 countries besides China, vehemently denies that claim. In fact, its officials say, their policy is just the opposite. In China, they are trying to change policies that force women to have abortions and punish families that want more than one child.
UNFPA's impressive executive director, Thoraya Obaid, says firmly, "A condition for our programs [in China] is to eliminate the coercion."
"The Population Institute says we work through the Chinese. Yes, we do, but to retrain them to have a different view," Obaid says. "We do not in any way believe in abortion. We do not fund abortion." That policy, she adds, applies not only to China but also to the whole world.
But Bush didn't have to take Obaid's word. The State Department sent out a fact-finding mission in May that found no evidence the UNFPA program knowingly supported or participated in programs of coercive abortion. The British Parliament also sent out an investigative team, led by a leading conservative member of Parliament, Edward Leigh, which came to the same conclusion.
And, keep in mind, according to current law none of the $34 million would have gone to U.N. programs in China. Instead, it would have helped women all over the world.
Nonetheless, based on the false PRI claims, Bush axed the UNFPA funds and assigned the money to much narrower U.S. aid programs that reach only half as many countries. Trying to protect the Bush image of compassion, the White House asked the State Department to make the announcement. This was yet another rebuff of Colin Powell.
Even more disturbing is that the President would base his decision on testimony from the PRI. This is a fringe group that writes in a fund-raising appeal, "Suddenly, you and I have a god-given opportunity to drive the final nail into the coffin of U.N. Population Fund abortionists."
PRI is a spin-off of Human Life International (HLI), a group with an anti-Semitic bent. Its founder, the Rev. Paul Marx, repeatedly charged that Jewish doctors controlled the abortion movement. The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, criticized Marx for his "ludicrous claims."
Marx invested more than $1 million in PRI, according to the HLI Web site. In 1995 he hired Steven Mosher to head PRI. Mosher has made a lifelong campaign of attacking Chinese practices of forced abortion. He was thrown out of the anthropology program at Stanford University 19 years ago, in part for endangering his research subjects. He published pictures of Chinese women who had undergone late-term abortions in the Taiwanese press, leaving the women vulnerable to government retaliation.
Read the PRI Web site (www.pop.org)
and the zealotry of his group becomes apparent. So does his close association
with Austin Ruse, founder and president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights
Institute, who has worked closely with PRI against the UNFPA. Ruse recently bragged
to the Washington Post about how conservative Christian groups are now building
ties with Islamic governments to fight against expanded rights for women, gays
and children at United Nations conferences.
This strange alliance puts conservative Christians in league with hard-line Islamic governments that include Libya, Iraq and Iran. Ruse especially singled out Sudan as a key partner. Sudan, in which the practice of slavery still flourishes. Sudan, which harbored Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. Sudan, which is on the State Department's list of states that sponsor terrorism.
Such are the extremist groups whose "facts" Bush has heeded over his own State
Department. But then, the State Department can't deliver the votes.
Copyright 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc