Republicans Advance a Bill Defunding U.N. Population Agency

By Patrick Goodenough | October 6, 2011 | 4:54 AM EDT

China says its one-child policy, initiated in 1979, has helped to reduce the country’s population by more than 400 million people. (Photo: Shanghai Population and Family Planning Commission)

(CNSNews.com) – U.S. House Republicans fired another shot across the bow of the United Nations Wednesday, advancing a bill to defund a U.N. agency accused of complicity in China’s coercive population control policies.

By a 23-17 vote along party lines, the House Foreign Relations Committee approved a bill, introduced by freshman Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), that would save $400 million over ten years in funding to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).

The 1985 “Kemp-Kasten amendment” prohibits federal funding for any agency that “supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.” Citing the amendment and China’s “one-child” policy, President Bush defunded the UNFPA from 2002 to 2008. President Obama restored funding soon after taking office.

“Whether or not you believe the U.S. should be borrowing money from China to fund U.N. projects in China, U.S. taxpayers should not be forced to fund programs that violate provisions of the Kemp-Kasten amendment,” Ellmers said during the markup hearing for H.R. 2059.

“If the Chinese wish to do such things, they should not expect funding from the United States taxpayer.”

The bill to defund the UNFPA was introduced by freshman Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), seen here attending an Americans United for Life President's Council breakfast last January. (Photo: Rep. Ellmers Web site)

The hearing was characterized by impassioned debate demonstrating a gulf between supporters of the bill, who focused on forced abortion and other violations taking place under the one-child program; and opponents, who pointed to UNFPA programs around the world which they said would be adversely affected by a U.S. funding freeze.

UNFPA supporters insisted that the agency cannot be blamed for what takes place in Chinese counties where coercive population control measures are enforced; detractors quoted senior UNFPA officials praising China’s family planning policies.

“The State Department has repeatedly found that UNFPA refuses to provide detailed information on its activities in China,” House chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) told the hearing.

“In December of 2010, the vice-minister of China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission thanked UNFPA for ‘its constant support to China’s population and family planning undertakings during the past thirty years and more,’” she continued. “UNFPA continues business as usual, and last year, it approved another five-year operational plan for China.”

Ros-Lehtinen implicitly tackled the charge that depriving the UNFPA of U.S. funding would harm its programs elsewhere.

“UNFPA clearly does not need U.S. funding,” she said. “Reports indicate that UNFPA has built up reserves and unspent funds of 500 million dollars.  UNFPA’s annual report for 2010 indicated that its budget totaled 870 million dollars – a record amount.

“So why, when Americans face a struggling economy, skyrocketing deficits, and crushing debt, should our taxpayer dollars go to an organization that supports coercive abortion and is flush with cash?  Again, there are much better uses for taxpayer funds than sending millions to UNFPA.”

Ranking minority member Rep. Howard Berman (Calif.) asserted that H.R. 2059 would harm poor women and children in developing countries suffering the effects of disease, war and rape.

“Rather than helping these desperate people – as UNFPA seeks to do – the legislation makes them pawns in a debate over social issues that often seems divorced from reality,” he said.

“Rather than lobbing another grenade in our culture wars, this committee should be working to strengthen maternal mortality prevention efforts, improve the capacity of health systems in the developing world, and protect women from rape as an instrument of war,” Berman added.

Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) called the anti-UNFPA measure “a smear campaign” against “an easy target.”

Veteran pro-life campaigner Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) responded to the arguments about the impact on valuable work done being elsewhere by the UNFPA.

“Yes, UNFPA may do some other things – but so do other multilateral organizations, so does USAID. Our dollars ought to go where we are not in any way complicit in these crimes against women – and that is not a smear, I say to my friend [Connolly] – these are crimes against women and children. Let’s not forget, at the Nuremburg war crimes tribunal forced abortion was called – rightfully so – a crime against women and a crime against humanity. It is no less a crime today.”

Smith is the author of the China Democracy Promotion Act of 2011, a bill that provides the president with the authority to deny access to the U.S. of anyone linked to human rights violations in China, with one of the specified targets anyone who “has participated in the imposition of the People’s Republic of China’s coercive birth limitation policy.”

‘UNFPA involvement allows China to carry out forced abortions more effectively’

Wednesday’s vote came one day before the advocacy group Americans for UNFPA holds its 2011 “gala for the health and dignity of women” in New York City, an event bringing together “450 business leaders, dignitaries, activists and celebrities.”

In an earlier statement, Americans for UNFPA president Valerie DeFillipo called the Republican initiative “a result of misguided ideology and politics.”

“When U.S. funding is withheld, UNFPAs lifesaving work will unquestionably dwindle, making women the pawns in this dangerous game. We simply cannot allow this to happen in the spirit of ideological demagoguery and ultimatums,” she said.

Whenever the question of UNFPA and China’s one-child policy arises, UNFPA supporters point to the findings of a 2002 State Department investigation in China, which concluded, “we find no evidence that UNFPA has knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.”

Critics, however, point out that the State Department’s legal analysis at the time determined that UNFPA-funded computers and data-processing equipment facilitated China’s ability to impose punitive fines or perform coerced abortions on one-child policy violators.

As cited in a Congressional Research Serve report, the State Department analysis concluded that UNFPA’s involvement in China’s family planning program “allows the Chinese government to implement more effectively its program of coercive abortion.”

On July 21, 2002, then Secretary of State Colin Powell determined that U.S. funding could not continue. Notifying Congress of his decision, he wrote, “Regardless of the modest size of UNFPA’s budget in China or any benefits its programs provide, UNFPA’s support of, and involvement in, China’s population-planning activities allows the Chinese government to implement more effectively its program of coercive abortion.”

Two years later, Powell said in response to written questions from senators that the administration had been urging Beijing since 2002 “to remove coercive practices from its family planning programs.”

“The [State] Department has been in consultations with China since 2002, but China has not eliminated its coercive practices,” Powell wrote. He also said the department had made various proposals to the UNFPA about its work in China “that would permit the United States to fund UNFPA consistent with Kemp-Kasten.”

U.S. funding withheld from the UNFPA during the Bush administration totaled $244 million.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow