State Department Withholds Funding for World Health Organization

The State Department recently decided to freeze $3 million in funding appropriated by Congress for the World Health Organization’s research on mifepristone (also known as RU-486 and the “abortion pill”). Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), along with eight other members of the House of Representatives, sent a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell last week to express their concerns that the State Department is using an overly broad interpretation of a 1985 law to justify withholding US funding from international organizations.

The law, commonly referred to as Kemp-Kasten, prohibits US funds from being used to finance or support abortions abroad, according to Common Dreams. In recent months, a broad interpretation of this law was used to withhold $34 million appropriated by Congress for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) because of its work in China, despite the fact that the Bush Administration’s own handpicked team of investigators found no evidence that the UNFPA supported any coercive abortion or sterilization programs. In fact, funding for the UNFPA from the US is always prohibited from being used on UNFPA programs in China.

Maloney and the other House members express their concern in their letter to Powell that using the same overly broad interpretation of the law, funding for other international programs that work with Chinese health ministry and family planning programs could also be in jeopardy, including $120 million to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), $108.1 million for the World Health organization, and $792.4 million for the World Bank. “We want to know that the Administration is not jeopardizing UNICEF, WHO and other important UN programs because of a small group of anti-choice zealots,” said Maloney in a statement released by her office. “The Administration’s overly broad interpretation of Kemp-Kasten could cripple more reputable UN programs that provide life-saving services to women and children around the world.”

This recent move by the State Department follows threats by the Bush Administration to back out of a landmark 1994 population policy if the terms “reproductive rights” and “reproductive health services” were not removed from the language of the agreement. The Cairo program shifted the world’s approach to reducing rapid population growth away from coercive, numbers-based programs to voluntary family planning programs that at their core were about empowering women to make choices and have control over their lives. Bush’s threat was met with immediate criticism from several countries facing the most rapid population growth in the world, including India and China.

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Associated Press 11/6/02; Common Dreams News Center 11/7/02; Text of letter 10/31/02; Rep. Maloney press release 11/1/02; Feminist Daily News Wire

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