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Feminist Majority Foundation Chat Series of 2003

Jane Roberts of 34 Million Friends Campaign

Campaign founders Lois Abraham (left) and Jane Roberts open letters at UNFPA headquarters.

Interview by Anushay Hossain of the Feminist Majority Foundation

1) Do you see this move by Bush, to withhold $34 million from UNFPA, as part of a larger campaign to restrict women's reproductive rights? "Of course. They have made it absolutely clear in Johannesburg and Bangkok that they do not appreciate the term reproductive health or reproductive rights. They have tried to rid international agreements of language supporting reproductive health care. They [the Bush Administration] have a single-minded blind spot about the abortion issue. And UNFPA does not even engage in abortion related activity. They cannot equate reproductive health care with only abortion. That is crazy. That is nuts. The more family planning that is available to women, the fewer abortions are performed."

2) What kind of impact do you think the "34 Million Friends" Campaign will have on the lives of women around the world? "Right now, the campaign is a wonderful way for Americans to reach out to women worldwide. As a result of this $34 million funding cut, UNFPA has had to cut its programs by 12.5%. We need to tell the world that our government, and not the American people, made this choice. The American people support UNFPA. We can be so grateful for all the choices we have here in the US- you name it we got it. These women have nothing. When I was visiting Mali, and we were on our way to a remote village, we came upon a young girl who was in labor, lying on a donkey cart. Luckily the doctor traveling with us loaded her on to the bed of his truck and transported her the remaining six miles to the clinic. I have seen the work UNFPA does on the ground and have met the women whose lives have been saved by UNFPA."

"We have a huge vision with 34 Million Friends. On May 7th, UNFPA is holding an event in Brussels to thank Europe for its support, and to ask people worldwide to contribute small amounts every year to the cause of universal reproductive health. We want to make this Campaign global and on going. Even if we have new leadership, we do not want this Campaign to stop. Everyone should have a stake in this. We would rather have 34 million people donate a dollar, than have 34 millionaires each give a million dollars."

3) How much money would you estimate should be given to fund international family planning? "At the Cairo conference, they put the figure at $17 to 22 billion per year. We are far short of anywhere near this amount. The developing countries have given over 2/3 of what they promised at Cairo. The developed countries have given slightly less than half of what they promised. There is a real gap here. These people who need access to reproductive health care are the most vulnerable people in the world. They have no voice. You have to keep the promises you make. You cannot make promises at international conferences, and then not keep them like the US is doing. It sends the wrong message to people and women all over the world."

4) Why do you think other countries, in particular European countries, are more supportive of international family planning? "In the US we are all caught up in abortion politics. Europeans are much more relaxed and have a much more tolerant view of human sexuality. They are not wrapped up in abortion politics like the American public. It's a tragedy that a determined minority in the US can, in their anti-abortion zeal, deny contraceptive services to families who want them."

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