08/20/2007 11:49 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Right Thing to Do is Rarely This Obvious

Americans for UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) is fighting back, exposing the carnage caused since Bush gave a small band of pro-life extremists influence over who gets contraception internationally. This "pro-life" coup ranks as one of the most sinister, least known (and successful) campaigns against women, babies and families of the world. Almost alone a shadowy band of six anti-contraception extremists with the ear of an all-too-willing president managed to freeze $161 million of U.S. funds to UNFPA (and counting). This "pro-life" campaign has resulted in hundreds of thousands of infant deaths, thousands of mothers dying during childbirth, as well as millions more unintended pregnancies and abortions worldwide.

The UN is, despite press reports to the contrary, primarily a relief agency. It provides assistance to those living in the most dangerous and unstable places on earth. The role of UNFPA, one of its agencies, is to provide lifesaving interventions in the reproductive field: delivering babies, creating healthy births, ensuring that women are well enough to become mothers again, and giving families the methods to space children. UNFPA also spearheads the global campaign to end fistula. (Fistula is a hole that forms between a woman's vagina and her bladder and rectum caused by prolonged and obstructed labor and the unavailability of a C-section. In most cases, the baby dies as a result of this kind of delivery. A woman who survives is left with a fistula, and lifelong incontinence. It affects more than 2 million girls and women worldwide.) UNFPA works in more than 126 countries, most of which are poor and risk getting poorer since they have the highest rates of population growth. Often, UNFPA sets up camp in war-torn settings, dispensing emergency contraception to women who have been raped as an act of war (increasingly more common) and ensuring that pregnant women can deliver babies safely when they are driven into refugee camps. UNFPA does not provide abortion. In fact, the organization states explicitly, "UNFPA...does not provide support for abortion services." Instead, UNFPA is the supplier of 41 percent of the world's total needed contraceptive (or prevention) services. It does this all on a meager budget, $500 million, provided by nations that believe in its mission. UNFPA is by many standards a model of what the UN does well. It has a tremendous impact on the people in greatest need, and it does so on a shoestring. As economist Jeffrey Sachs, author of The End of Poverty and, according to Time magazine, one of the world's one hundred most influential people, explained, "UNFPA's work is absolutely vital."

Sadly, the organization's good work providing people in poor countries the ability to plan a pregnancy put it on a collision course with the U.S. anti-family planning movement. While domestically, our anti-sex fundamentalists tend to act covertly to roll back access to birth control, they act brazenly abroad. In Kosovo they characterized UNFPA's efforts to provide emergency contraception to female refugees who had been raped and wanted to prevent pregnancy as "ethnic cleansing " and "genocide" They followed UNFPA workers into Iraq to suggest the emergency obstetric care clinics it was constructing and staffing was instead the headquarters for an "abortion jihad."

These hecklers of humanitarian relief efforts work for a group based in Front Royal, Virginia, the Population Research Institute (PRI). When Bush took office, PRI saw its opportunity. The staff of six was imaginative. In 2002, they amplified their slander campaign against UNFPA claiming it was working with the Chinese government to enforce its coercive one-child policy.

The truth was the very opposite. UNFPA was working with the Chinese government to prove that voluntary family planning would lead to better outcomes for Chinese citizens as well as the Chinese government. In fact, UNFPA was having lots of success persuading the Chinese to relax their coercive and brutal one-child policy, the goal of their work there. It had even documented a dramatic decline in abortion rates in the Chinese counties it focused, from 24 percent to 10 percent. (To put this in context, the current abortion ratio in the U.S. is 24 percent.) Just when UNFPA was succeeding in proving to the Chinese the one-child policy was not only inhumane but also ineffective, PRI swooped in with its claims of complicity. Bush, eager to lock lips with his fanatical base, ignored the advice of his own state department, as well as many allied nations, and opted to go with the swirly eyed lunacy of the six staffers of PRI. At their request, Bush quickly froze all U.S. funds to UNFPA, which represented 12 percent of its budget.

Since the accusations were made, over 145 diplomats have looked into the spurious claims made by PRI. Not one investigator has been able to validate PRI's accusations against UNFPA.

Nonetheless, UNFPA has not received U.S. funding since 2002, amounting to a loss of $161 million dollars. Many countries have appealed to the U.S. to restore funding to UNFPA, including UN ambassadors from more than 50 countries who explained that "The least developed countries, 34 of which are in Africa, receive the bulk of UNFPA funding and will be most affected." Bush has remained unmoved. The US is the only country to ever withhold funds to UNFPA for political reasons.

The effects of U.S. policy are tangible. Johns Hopkins researchers have estimated the magnitude. According to the researchers, the loss of funding to UNFPA has resulted in 1.9 million infant deaths, 135,000 maternal deaths, 60 million unintended pregnancies, 25 million abortions.

Americans for UNFPA, an organization formed to educate the American public about the impact this U.S. religious fundamentalist plot has had on women, babies and families worldwide, is now striking back with a campaign called One Woman Can. As Anita Rahman, president of Americans for UNFPA explains, "President (Bush) threatened to veto the 2008 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, in part, because the language of the bill makes it harder for him to withhold the contribution to UNFPA," she continues, "We dream of the day when the United States government will once again contribute financially to UNFPA and be part of the international community's work to promote the health and dignity of women everywhere." There are many ways to get involved in the One Women Can campaign including simply signing a petition calling for President Bush to release the funds for UNFPA immediately. To get on the side of the angels, click here.

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