U.S. Reasoning Behind Cutting Funds to UNFPA Challenged

By J Nastranis

This is the second in a series of reports analysing U.S. policy towards multilateralism in general and the UN in particular. The first was published on March 16, 2017. – The Editor

NEW YORK (IDN) – Voicing “deep regret” at the United States decision to cut financial support to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has appealed to donors to increase their support for the UN Population Agency to allow it to continue its critical work.

Strongly criticising the U.S. decision, Catholics for Choice said the announcement of the decision in the same week as the 50th session of the Commission on Population and Development (Aprll 3-7) is “a deliberate slap in the face of women as the UN considers the importance of family planning for sustainable development.”

“From a Catholic social justice perspective, we think this decision is especially cruel at a time when women bear the heaviest brunt in an unprecedented number of global crises, from famine in the Horn to the crisis in Syria,” said Catholics for Choice president Jon O’Brien.

“President Trump seems less driven by an understanding of UNFPA’s impact and more by a desire to pay back the far-right Christian constituency that voted him into office.”

This is the first of the cuts in U.S. financial contributions to the UN announced by President Donald Trump. The memo, citing the Kemp-Kasten amendment – first enacted in 1985 and previously used by other Republican presidents – alleges that the UNFPA “supports, or participates in the management of, a programme of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization” in China.

The amendment prohibits foreign aid to an organization that is involved in coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and George W Bush refused funding to UNFPA for the same reason.

Catholics for Choice said, the State Department’s announcement of the decision “incorrectly states that UNFPA has supported coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization in China.”

“This claim could not be further from the truth,” the statement said. More than 14 years ago, Catholics for Choice led an independent delegation by faith leaders to China to assess the impact of UNFPA in the country. “Our report found that UNFPA has been a major catalyst in helping China to transition to a fully voluntary and non-coercive family planning program.”

Catholics for Choice also urged all donors to support “UNFPA’s efforts to empower women to make family planning decisions that allow them and their families to get and stay on a path to development.”

UK Overseas Development Institute (ODI) said: “Among UN agencies, UNFPA has . . . played a key role in supporting programmes to tackle sexual and gender-based violence, a problem that affects an estimated one in three women worldwide.”

UNFPA in a statement refuted the claim, calling it “erroneous”, assuring that all of its work “promotes the human rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination,” the agency said in a statement on April 4, 2017.

UNFPA called the U.S. “a trusted partner” and said that support received from the country over the years “have saved tens of thousands of mothers from preventable death and disabilities.”

In the previous year, UNFPA saved the lives of more than 2,340 women from dying during pregnancy and childbirth, and helped to ensure more than 1,250 fistula surgeries, for example.

Supporting the UNFPA, UN Secretary-General said “the U.S. decision is based on an inaccurate perception of the nature and importance of the work of UNFPA.” In a statement from his spokesperson, Guterres said that the cuts “could have devastating effects” on the health of vulnerable women and girls and their families.

Guterres, who was previously the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said that he saw first-hand the life-saving character of UNFPA, which is active in more than 150 countries and territories.

Catholics for Choice said the Trump administration’s decision to deny funding for the UNFPA will hurt millions of vulnerable women around the world. The agency is an important provider of contraception in more than 150 countries, which has helped to significantly reduce maternal mortality worldwide, the statement said.

Nicola Jones, Principal Research Fellow at the ODI, said: “It is extremely concerning that the U.S. government has decided to defund the UNFPA given the agency’s critical role in supporting vital maternal health and family planning services globally, including women and girls in difficult to reach fragile settings.

‘This withdrawal of funding will place at risk the UNFPA’s essential role as a champion for ending early and forced child marriage and female genital mutilation, two practices that jeopardise the health and futures of millions of girls annually.

Like other UN agencies, UNFPA is funded by governments voluntarily. In 2015, it received $979m in donations, with the U.S. being its fourth-largest donor. According to Devex, the U.S. contributed upwards of $69 million to the UNFPA each year, considering a combination of “core” and “non-core” resources.

Quoting the U.S. State Department, BBC said the money that had been allocated to the UNFPA for the fiscal year 2017 will be “transferred and reprogrammed to the Global Health Programs account.” The account will be used by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to support family planning, maternal and reproductive health activities in developing countries, the State Department added. [IDN-InDepthNews – 04 April 2017]

Photo: A UNFPA-supported health centre 400 kilometers southwest of Uganda’s capital Kampala, includes a ward where women in their final stages of pregnancy can remain comfortably and avoid arduous travel once labour begins. Photo: UNFPA/Omar Gharzeddine

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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