here is a mind-bending illogic behind the Bush administration's decision yesterday to withhold $34 million from the United Nations Population Fund, which is working in China despite continued practices there of coerced abortion and sterilization. It is precisely because of China's reprehensible policies that the U.N. presence is important. Cutting off funds to the agency is an inexcusable sop to right-wing anti-abortion activists in an election year. It will increase the number of abortions worldwide by depriving poor women of the education and help they need and that the U.N. agency provides.
The U.N. Population Fund is the world's biggest agency focused on women's reproductive health and the only serious external force in China trying to change the way local officials hold down population growth. Last year Secretary of State Colin Powell praised its "invaluable work." Faced with accusations that the agency was complicit in Chinese misdeeds, the administration sent in a study team in May. It found no evidence that the fund knowingly supports or participates in any Chinese program that coerces abortion or sterilization. It recommended that the $34 million requested by Congress for the agency last year be released.
Instead, the administration refused yesterday to do so because of China's continuing birth-control practices. This means that some 12.5 percent of the agency's budget is now wiped out and that vital and worthy programs like midwife training in Algeria and a new AIDS center in Haiti are suddenly without funding they need.
The administration says it will give the $34 million instead to the Child Survival and Health Program Fund, part of the State Department's Agency for International Development. The problem is that that agency cannot duplicate the work of the U.N., which operates in dozens of countries where the United States has no aid presence. Reproductive health and freedom of women are central to the improvement of poor societies. The U.N. Population Fund is one of the most important forces at work today helping poor women. The United States should be supporting it, not undermining it.