The Bush administration says it will withhold $34 million in funds earmarked for the United Nations Population Fund. The United States is taking the action because of concerns the U.N. agency may be supporting coercive birth control programs in China, that include forced abortions and sterilization.
The U.N. Population Fund has denied being involved in coercive birth-control programs in China. But the Bush administration says there is evidence to the contrary, including material gathered by a U.S. fact-finding team that went to China in May.
The administration says it is halting payments to the U.N. body, and re-directing the money to family planning programs administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Secretary of State Colin Powell made the final decision on the funding move over the weekend, consistent with the 1985 Kemp-Kasten law from Congress, that forbids U.S. foreign-aid funding for coercive birth control practices abroad.
"While Americans have different views on the issue of abortion, I think all agree that no woman should be forced to have an abortion," he said. "After careful consideration of the law, and all the information that's available, including the report from the team we sent to China, we came to the conclusion that the U.N. population fund monies go to Chinese agencies that carry out coercive programs."
American conservative groups and anti-abortion activists have long contended that the U.N. population agency has, at least indirectly, supported Chinese programs that use forced abortion as part of its effort to limit married couples to having only one child.
The May 29 report by the U.S. fact-finding team that went to China, made public here, said the three-person team found no evidence that the U.N. had "knowingly" supported or participated in a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in China.
However it said Chinese programs linked to the U.N. do have "coercive elements," including the levying of huge fines against couples who violate the one-child policy. It recommended that no U.S. funds go to Chinese population programs "unless and until" all forms or coercion are eliminated.
Spokesman Boucher said the $34 million withheld from the U.N. Population Fund would be re-allocated to a variety of U.S. bilateral family planning and health programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The administration decision drew criticism from Congressional Democrats, including New York Congresswoman Nita Lowey who said it was a White House effort to appease conservatives in advance of the November Congressional election.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington said Beijing does not try to limit population through coercion, but rather what he termed "encouragement."
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was disappointed at the news, saying the world body's population fund does essential work and does not, as he put it, "go around encouraging abortions."