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A pregnant woman in Timor-Leste, Indonesia, where the United Nations Population Fund supplied much-needed equipment to a national hospital to reduce maternal mortality rates.

A pregnant woman in Timor-Leste, Indonesia, where the United Nations Population Fund supplied much-needed equipment to a national hospital to reduce maternal mortality rates. (Photo: United Nations/flickr/cc)

Outcry as Trump Slashes Funding for World's Most Vulnerable Mothers and Newborns

Trump's State Department falsely claims that UN agency supports "a program of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization"

Nika Knight

President Donald Trump's State Department announced late Monday that it was cutting off millions of dollars in funding for a United Nations family planning agency that offers reproductive and maternal health services worldwide, serving tens of thousands of women.

Rights advocates and journalists expressed concern about the decision, citing the enormous positive impacts of the agency's work.

"The money the U.S. administration now wants to withdraw would have been spent on health care for some of the poorest and most vulnerable women and girls in the world," said International Planned Parenthood Federation director general Tewodros Melesse in a statement. "It will take away funding for contraception, maternal care, and the safe delivery of babies, as well as programs to counter gender-based violence."

The U.S. was the third-largest donor to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) last year, contributing $75 million.

As rationale for its decision, the State Department falsely claimed that the UN agency takes part in "a program of coerced abortion or forced sterilization" in China.

However, BuzzFeed notes that "[t]he State Department's determination contradicts its own 2001 inquiry into whether UNFPA funding supports coercive Chinese reproductive health policies."

UNFPA swiftly set the record straight in a statement, describing the United States' claim as "erroneous."

"UNFPA refutes this claim," the agency wrote, "as all of its work promotes the human rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination. Indeed, United Nations Member States have long described UNFPA's work in China as a force for good."

The BBC reports that the agency's work includes:

  • Helping women and young people to access sexual and reproductive services, including family planning
  • Preventing unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions
  • Supporting maternal health
  • Programs in the world's "most fragile" countries, including Iraq, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia

"The support we received over the years from the Government and people of the United States has saved tens of thousands of mothers from preventable deaths and disabilities, and especially now in the rapidly developing global humanitarian crises," UNFPA wrote.

The State Department's decision "has absolutely nothing to do with defending human rights in China or anywhere else," Brian Dixon, senior vice president at the Population Connection Action Fund, charged in a statement. "This administration has no concern for reproductive autonomy of Chinese women or women anywhere. Today's action is just another assault on their freedom, their autonomy, and their empowerment."

Indeed, the administration's latest attack on international women's healthcare programs follows its January reinstatement of the so-called global gag rule, which cuts off funding for reproductive healthcare nonprofits that allow doctors to discuss abortion with patients. Like the gag rule, the UNFPA has been a frequent target of Republican presidential administrations.

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