(CNSNews.com) - The United Nations Population Fund claims inadequate reproductive health is the biggest obstacle facing the world's poor, according to a report released Tuesday, and a New York congresswoman says the Bush administration is partly to blame.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) took aim at President Bush, accusing him of playing "abortion politics" at the expense of developing nations. She said the administration's decision in July to withhold the U.S. contribution of $34 million from the fund, known as UNFPA, has had a detrimental effect.
"This misguided decision will cost thousands of women and children's lives," Maloney said. "When we prevent money and services from reaching those in need, women die."
She said the lack of U.S. funding has led to two million unwanted pregnancies, the deaths of more than 500,000 women and the deaths of more than 77,000 children and infants.
Maloney repeatedly cited comments made in an upcoming Esquire article by former Bush administration official John J. DiIulio Jr., who criticized the White House and Bush's political adviser, Karl Rove, of caring more about politics than domestic policies.
DiIulio, who ran the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives until resigning last year, apologized for the remarks Monday. That, however, did not stop Maloney from using DiIulio's criticism to attack the administration's foreign policy.
"I don't understand how you make a decision to defund a program that was founded by the United States along with other nations -- one that has been endorsed and supported by 179 different nations. Those 179 nations can't be wrong," Maloney said.
"I am mystified why they are acting not to fund the program," she added. "It's a program that's worked and should be funded. According to this Bush administration ex-official, politics is driving public policy, and that's no way to run the White House."
Maloney was not the sole critic of Bush at Tuesday's gathering. Tom Merrick, a health and population adviser for the World Bank Institute, said the administration's opposition to abortion has isolated the United States from the rest of the world.
"Reproductive health is under attack from the religious right," he said. "It's a war on the concept of reproductive health because they see it as abortion. So, we're letting abortion politics in the United States drive this agenda."
A call to the White House seeking comment was not returned, but the Bush administration has defended the decision not to support UNFPA despite sentiments from Congress to the contrary. When the administration announced its plans in July, officials cited their disapproval of UNFPA's support for China's one-child policy.
This year's report, the 25th annual assessment of world population control, emphasized the need for better reproductive services for women as the cure for poverty. That idea is not a new message from UNFPA, but the report stressed the economic benefits of family planning and population assistance.
"Developing countries with lower fertility and slower population growth have seen higher productivity, more savings and more productive investment," the report states. "They have registered faster economic growth."
The senior researcher for the report, Stan Bernstein, cited Brazil as an example of a country that has successfully used family planning resources to curtail birth rates, which in turn has reduced the number of people living in poverty, he said. The result, according to Bernstein and the report, is the potential for greater economic development.
"Countries that made the investments in reproductive health services experienced higher rates of economic growth than those that did not," he said. "When people have the smaller number of children they say they want, they are able to save more and they are able to invest more."
A group critical of the UNFPA's efforts dismissed the report's findings. Scott Weinberg, a spokesman for the Population Research Institute, said Bernstein and the UNFPA are taking a backward approach. Weinberg said his organization's research has shown that poverty falls as a result of economic development, not the other way around.
This year's report did not surprise Weinberg, who said it offered family planning and population control as the only solutions to problems in developing nations. He said that view, coupled with the UNFPA's operations in China, led the Bush administration to revoke the funding, a decision Weinberg lauded.
"The UNFPA supports the campaign of forced abortion in China," he said. "Because of the relatively high human rights standards in the United States, it was determined that UNFPA operations in China exempted them from receiving U.S. funds. Now they've launched a campaign to discredit anyone who points out that their program in China isn't what they claim it is."
Weinberg said most Americans who support family planning understand the administration's position and disagree with the UNFPA's tactics. However, two women have made it their mission to drum up funding for UNFPA.
Lois Abraham and Jane Roberts founded the "34 Million Friends" fund-raising campaign after Bush's announcement. Their goal is to raise $1 from 34 million Americans, which would then be donated to UNFPA. So far they have raised more than $100,000.
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