UNFPA Dispute Continues Despite Bush Decision

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

London (CNSNews.com) - The dispute between pro-life groups and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) continues despite potentially fewer funds for population control in China as a result of a recent State Department decision.

Last week, the Bush administration said it would not release $34.5 million in funds after concerns were raised about possible UNFPA's support for coercive population control in China.

The European Union stepped in and announced the donation of about $32 million to the agency. Although the funds had been approved earlier in July, the E.U. made a provocative announcement a day after the U.S. decision.

European Development Commissioner Poul Nielson took the opportunity to attack the U.S. action as "regrettable and counter-productive."

"The decision to cut funding may well lead to more unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and increased dangers for mothers and infants," Nielson said. "The losers from this decision will be some of the most vulnerable people on this planet."

The E.U. funds are specifically earmarked to a program operating in 22 developing countries - excluding China. But pro-lifers say that won't stop UNFPA support for coercive population control methods around the world. The E.U. funds could even, in a roundabout way, be used to for operations in China.

Anthony Ozimic, political spokesman for the London-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, noted that a forced sterilization scandal brewing in Peru could point the finger at the UNFPA.

According to a report by the Virginia-based Population Research Institute (PRI), a Peruvian congressional committee is investigating UNFPA support for forced sterilizations under former dictator Alberto Fujimori.

The country's National Population Program was responsible for the sterilization of more than 100,000 women in the early 90s, and the UNFPA acted as the program's "technical secretary," financing and approving the operation, according to the report.

Ozimic said he was also worried about money shifted from elsewhere into Chinese programs as a result of the E.U. grant.

"Although it is targeted money, this approach was taken in previous years in the United States ... what organizations would do is shift budgets around," he said. "It doesn't take an accounting genius to make sure the money goes where the UNFPA wants it to go."

"The decision by the Bush administration to withhold funding has been the first major breakthrough in an international campaign against forced abortion and coercive policies," Ozimic said. "But I don't think the UNFPA has changed."

Peru dispute

The UNFPA disputed the claims about Peru and said the PRI's report was "based on old and often rejected allegations" and called the PRI a "fringe group that engages in a campaign against UNFPA in pursuit of its ideological opposition to family planning."

"When it hears of the use of coercion in any country, UNFPA takes immediate action to investigate and, if true, to demand an end to such practices," the agency said in a statement.

The UNFPA said that when reports of involuntary sterilization first surfaced, the group recommended that the Peruvian Ministry of Health carry out investigations. The agency said authorities later enacted protections against forced sterilization such as waiting periods, counselling and "the right of users to free and informed consent" when considering whether to undergo operations.

PRI spokesman Scott Weinberg stood by the report.

"A democratically elected group in the Peruvian congress concludes the UNFPA was involved in the forced sterilization program," he said. "We're just reporting on their findings."

Weinberg called the denial "standard operating practice" for the UNFPA. He also warned that the agency's operations in China were expanding despite the loss of U.S. money.

Earlier this week, the London-based Daily Telegraph reported that authorities in the Chinese province of Guangdong are increasing the penalty for the birth of a second child from a fine of twice the family's annual income to eight times the parents' combined earnings.

"Abuses in China are increasing and UNFPA support is increasing," Weinberg said.

A UNFPA spokesman would not comment directly on the Peru allegations when contacted Thursday.

"The UNFPA never supported the use of coercion anywhere in the world and never will," the spokesman said.

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