Earlier this month—right after the Republican-controlled Congress approved a repeal of an Obama-era regulation that reinforced protections for healthcare access under the Title X family planning program—the Trump Administration officially cut off all US funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the main UN agency working to advance family planning worldwide.
The US Department of State, citing the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, notified Congress of the decision on April 3. The Kemp-Kasten Amendment, included in annual appropriations legislation, prohibits funding of organizations that “support or participate in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.” According to the State Department, UNFPA’s country program in China was in violation of the amendment. Yet, in its own two-page justification of the Administration’s decision, the State Department notes that although UNFPA partners with China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission, there is “no evidence that UNFPA directly engages in coercive abortion or involuntary sterilizations in China,” a conclusion also reached by the George W. Bush State Department after a two-week fact-finding mission to China in 2002. That fact-finding mission found no evidence that UNFPA “knowingly supported or participated” in any such activities, according to PAI, a global reproductive health organization.
PAI called the Trump Administration’s justification of its decision to terminate funding, “a wholly unconvincing argument in support of a politically-motivated decision to cut off UNFPA.”
In a statement, UNFPA called the Trump Administration’s portrayal of its China program “erroneous,” and asserted that “all of its work promotes the human rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination.” It continued, “Indeed, United Nations Member States have long described UNFPA’s work in China as a force for good.”
The Trump Administration’s decision means that the US will withhold at least $32.5 million from UNFPA, representing the US voluntary core contribution. PAI notes, however, that the Kemp-Kasten Amendment applies to any funds provided in the State Department and foreign operation appropriations bill, which affects funding provided to UNFPA from refugee, humanitarian, or disaster accounts included in the bill. All in, UNFPA stands to lose about $71 million: $32.5 million core contribution plus $38 million for reproductive and maternal health services in humanitarian settings.
Notably, the cut in funding threatens to have the most impact in UNFPA’s work outside of China, where UNFPA spends relatively little money. Instead, according to Melissa Kuklin, Executive Director of Washington, DC-based Friends of UNFPA, the funding cut will likely impact UNFPA’s ability to provide refugee services, for example, to Syrian refugees in Jordan who receive not only UNFPA-provided maternal health services, but also psychological support, especially important for survivors of gender-based violence. UNFPA is considered a lead agency for gender-based violence prevention around the world.
“The US defunding of UNFPA is senseless and shortsighted,” commented Katja Iverson, President and CEO of Women Deliver, a global health organization for women and girls. “It will cost lives and money, while contributing to a more unequal and unstable world.”
The US is one of the largest donors to UNFPA. According to the agency, US funding in FY 2016 helped allow UNFPA to prevent 947,000 unintended pregnancies; 295,000 unsafe abortions; and 2,340 maternal deaths.
Media Resources: Kaiser Family Foundation 4/17/17; NPR 4/4/17; PAI Washington Memo 4/4/17; UNFPA Press Release 4/4/17; Buzzfeed 4/3/17; Women Deliver; Feminist Newswire 3/31/17