A diverse coalition of religious leaders and people of faith called on the Bush Administration Tuesday to release the $34 million in funding which he has withheld under pressure from anti-choice Congressional forces. The ad-hoc coalition of 136 leaders from 31 countries sent a letter to President Bush this week stating, “As a UN agency, UNFPA is vital to the reproductive health needs of women, men and their families by providing life-saving services such as family planning, and HIV/AIDS prevention, counseling and services to people living in developing countries around the world. As people of faith, we understand that women and men must have access to information and services so they can act morally and responsibly in their sexual behavior.”
The letter, which was signed by Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Jews, went on to note that, “We believe that UNFPA has been unequivocally committed to providing informed and voluntary family planning. The agency has used, and continues to use, its stature as a UN agency to help governments, like China, to move more and more towards respect for the rights of women and men to decide for themselves on the number and spacing of their children.”
The Bush Administration withheld the UNFPA funds after anti-choice Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ), chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, alleged that the UNFPA was supporting forced abortion and sterilization in China. This accusation originated with the Population Research Institute, an organization founded by Human Life International, an anti-abortion organization that aligns itself with the Roman Catholic Church. UNFPA has denied that it funds any programs that perform forced procedures and does not use any U.S. funds for its programs in China. The agency also agreed in January 2002 to be subject to a fact-finding mission in China organized by the Bush Administration to investigate the allegations. The mission, however, has not yet been organized, nor has a fact-finding delegation been formed. Meanwhile, UNFPA has been forced to cut staff and programs as result of the Bush’s decision.