02/25/2009 02:03 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Dissembler

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Steven Mosher, president of the anti-family planning group, Population Research Institute (PRI), is at loose ends. He no longer has a collaborator in the White House, and so there is likely to be little patience for his extreme views, including his persistent (and recently reiterated) accusation about the UN agency UNFPA, the world's largest distributor of contraception. Mosher's group has pushed the concocted tale that UNFPA helped enforce China's coercive abortion rule. Even Bush's state department, which did its own investigation, didn't swallow that. (See the state department's 2002 investigation on the subject.) But Bush, always kinder to ideology than evidence, de-funded UNFPA under pressure from Mosher's group, making the US the only nation to ever withhold funds from UNFPA for political reasons.

I've been writing about Mosher's dangerous campaigns since 2006 and did at length in my book, How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, but only recently has he decided to respond (See "What is Wrong with the UN Population Fund?", 1 January, 2009). (One suspects Mosher's got a direct mail piece to write and funds to raise, and could use some attention.) Mosher, in his attack, writes: "Her claim that Bush ignored the advice of his state department is likewise a fantasy." Mosher appears to believe that repeating something makes it true. The State Department investigators report referenced above clearly states: "We find no evidence that UNFPA has knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in the PRC [Peoples Republic of China]." It recommended that the money "which has already been appropriated be released to UNFPA." It has been amply reported on that Bush ignored the findings and advice of his own experts. (NYT, WaPo, Salon are a few.)

But here's the more important point. Mosher's focus on the state department and on China in general is a red herring. The words "coercive abortion" no doubt read well in fundraising solicitations to his base. But this isn't his real concern. He has a broader, more ambitious, and considerably scarier agenda. UNFPA does not provide abortion. In fact, the organization states explicitly, "UNFPA does not support or promote abortion as a method of family planning." Instead, UNFPA is the supplier of 41 percent of the world's total needed contraceptive (or prevention) services. Mosher's real reason for targeting UNFPA is his religious crusade against contraception. It says it right in the Frequently Asked Questions section of his website under "What is the Mission of PRI": "We pursue the agenda common to all truly pro-life organizations: against abortion...against artificial contraception..."

Many of PRI's campaigns are designed to eliminate access to contraception. Sadly, Mosher specifically targets those living in the most desperate conditions. As one bit of evidence, consider that PRI doesn't merely oppose UNFPA's work in China. It opposes UNFPA's efforts everywhere and concocts fresh accusations against UNFPA in every country in which it works. In Kosovo, PRI claimed that UNFPA conspired with Slobodan Milosevic to "engage in ethnic cleansing by reducing Kosovars high birth rate" and in "genocide" against the Muslims. In Afghanistan, PRI claimed UNFPA led "reign of terror" in Afghan refugee camps and distributed "abortion kits." The kits were, in actuality, "safe delivery kits", for providing emergency obstetrical care because 1 in 6 women in Afghanistan die in childbirth. Reaching even higher rhetorical heights, PRI claimed that UNFPA aid workers were planning an "abortion Jihad" in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. And while the "abortion jihad," whatever that is, never materialized, the Fall of Iraq and the vast new possibilities it represented did bring Mosher's real fears to the surface. Mosher wrote at the time,

"If we Americans behave in Iraq as we behave in other countries, upon Baghdad's surrender we will fly in teams of population controllers and 'gender advisors.' They will inaugurate programs which will subject Iraqi children, especially girls, to graphic sex education programs. They will stock Iraqi medical clinics with condoms and contraceptives...It gets worse. The gender advisors (this is what they are really called), will provide assertiveness training to Iraqi women, urging them out of the home into the marketplace. They will organize special courses (reserved for women of course) in which they are urged to run for public office and start their own businesses."

Mosher and PRI haven't only targeted UNFPA. They steadfastly work to sabotage every agency delivering, or simply supporting, contraceptive services worldwide. He's called for the de-funding of Unicef claiming it "promotes abortion" and supports "family planning." PRI even attacked Save the Children because the organization supports the right to use birth control. PRI also launched a campaign against USAID, the US agency that distributes contraception worldwide, and features a "USAID Map of Shame" on their website.

What's shameful? Providing the poorest people on earth the ability to plan for and space their children thereby dramatically reducing maternal and infant mortality rates and poverty. When USAID provides condoms in the most AIDS-ravaged regions of the earth, Mosher attacks the "condom-pushers." Distributing condoms, he believes, leads to the breakdown of traditional values. ""How effective is an AIDS relief program that consists of the massive distribution of condoms by clever "social marketing"programs?" he asks. "The fact is, such marketing techniques necessarily promote a lifestyle which contributes to the spread of AIDS."

If Mosher has cleverly disguised his overarching agenda in the China attack, he's open about it elsewhere. An article he featured on PRI's homepage for nearly a year was "The Contracepted Society" by David Prentis which concluded, "The healing of society requires the abolishing of the widespread practice of contraception and sterilization." The society Mosher desires consists of large families, large and unplanned. Mosher spoke at 4th World Congress of Families convened in Poland. His topic, "Promoting and Protecting the Large Family: New Ideas." He himself has nine children, an example of the apparently un-contracepted lifestyle. A lifestyle he hopes to impose on us all.

Mosher would like to fight about a fake and debunked issue, the supposed collaboration of UNFPA with China's coercive abortion laws. It may be good for fundraising (and he's got a big family to support). But what he should be explaining is why he wants everyone else in the world to heel to his beliefs. Why must everyone, including the poorest people on earth, give up the right to plan their families, which the science argues is their best shot at leading healthy lives? Hopefully, with the arrival of the Obama administration, Mosher's ability to force his extreme views on the rest of the world will soon be over.