SOMETIMES it seems that George W. Bush's mission in life is to find ways to
make the rest of the world disdain us.
That's why I'm thankful for Americans such as Jane Roberts and Lois Abraham.
They're examples we can hold up to the world to show that we haven't all
lost our minds--and that we certainly don't all support the ideological
agenda of the Christian right.
Two years ago, when Bush decided to withhold an earmarked $34 million
contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (known by its acronym,
UNFPA), Roberts and Abraham didn't just get mad, they launched a grassroots
effort to raise money and rally support for the agency.
So far, they've collected $2 million from more than 100,000 Americans
(including about 1,300 Virginians) who understand that UNFPA does invaluable
work in protecting women's health and enabling them to plan when, and
whether, to give birth.
And that work is important, Roberts says, because "peace and stability will
prosper when women are healthy and have the children they want to have."
But UNFPA is being unnecessarily stifled because Bush has now blocked U.S.
funding for the agency for three straight fiscal years. The sum lost to the
organization over those three years is $93 million--a lot more than what
Roberts' and Abraham's 34 Million Friends of UNFPA have raised.
What does that lost funding mean in the real world? According to UNFPA, this
year's withheld $34 million could have helped prevent as many as 2 million
unwanted pregnancies and nearly 800,000 abortions, as well as 4,700 maternal
deaths and more than 77,000 infant and child deaths. The funds could also
have been used to improve HIV-prevention efforts.
UNFPA does not provide support for abortions or abortion-related activities,
and it affirms the principle that abortion should not be promoted as a
method of family planning.
But an obscure extremist group in Front Royal called the Population Research
Institute claimed UNFPA was involved in forced abortions and sterilizations
in China, and those spurious charges became Bush's justification for making
us the first country ever to withhold funds from UNFPA for political
Although PRI claims to be a human-rights group, its real agenda is to
eliminate international family-planning programs, which it says "have
outlived whatever usefulness they may once have possessed" and "should be
Those not driven by zealotry have discredited PRI's allegations. A 2002
report by State Department investigators found "no evidence that UNFPA has
knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of
coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization" in China. The report
recommended that the White House release money earmarked for UNFPA.
A team of British investigators and a multifaith group that traveled to
China last year corroborated the State Department findings.
In fact, there's evidence that suggests UNFPA's presence in China is helping
to move the country away from its coercive family-planning practices.
According to the State Department's most recent human-rights report, Beijing
intends to expand a UNFPA model program that emphasizes "informed choice of
Isn't it amazing? Over the past few decades, our government, whether
controlled by Democrats or Republicans, has decided that the best way to
change China is through what's commonly known as "constructive engagement."
And yet Bush and his right-wing base condemn UNFPA for adopting the very
same approach. Does the word "hypocrisy" spring to mind?
Even more incredible is the fact that the United States' contributions to
UNFPA hadn't even been supporting programs in China--for years they'd been
held in a separate account for non-China-related work. So denying funds to
UNFPA hasn't hurt China at all. Instead, it has hurt women and children in
the other 140 countries where UNFPA provides services (see Paul Akers'
editorial from this past Sunday, "Uphill battle").
Now, you may be wondering how any of this involves you. Well, if you live in
the 1st Congressional District, you're implicated in this crackpot campaign
to smear UNFPA. That's because your congresswoman, Jo Ann Davis, helped hype
up PRI's phony allegations.
Supporters of Bush's decision say the withheld funds will go "dollar for
dollar" to bilateral reproductive-health and family-planning programs.
However, it's impossible to really verify that. In the past, money diverted
from UNFPA has gone to new sexual-trafficking-prevention initiatives whose
efficacy has been questioned.
Everyone agrees that we should combat sexual trafficking, but it's largely a
symptom of extreme poverty, unwanted children, and gender discrimination.
UNFPA programs address these root causes; it simply makes no sense to
When we support UNFPA, we're supporting well-established, time-tested
programs that have forged strong bonds with local communities. We're
supporting work in dozens of countries where U.S.-funded bilateral programs
are nonexistent. And we're supporting research-based services that are
unencumbered by the demands of ideologues back in Washington.
Roberts says she wants to bring together 34 million Americans to create "a
teeny, tiny foreign policy" on family planning and women's health.
By joining her project (log on to 34millionfriends.org to learn more),
you'll be helping to save lives--and you'll be sending a message to the rest
of the world that we aren't all as loony as some of the politicians who
RICK MERCIER is a writer and editor for The Free Lance-Star in
Fredericksburg, Va. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.