The Bush administration said Friday it is again withholding money from the United Nations Population Fund over charges that the U.N. agency supports, at least indirectly, Chinese population policies that include coercive abortion. Opponents of the decision say it is driven by election campaign considerations by the White House.
The administration decision, conveyed in a message to Congress and a public announcement here, means the United States will withhold, for a third straight year, a $34-million payment to the U.N. agency that oversees family-planning programs around the world.
The State Department said the administration is obliged to block the funds under a 1985 act of Congress, the Kemp-Kasten amendment, barring U.S. contributions to international agencies involved in forced abortion or sterilization.
The issue has been controversial since the Bush administration withheld its first payment in 2002. The U.N. Population Fund maintained at the time, and still does, that its programs in China do not support coercive birth-control.
However, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters U.S. officials have examined the issue thoroughly and believe that the U.N. agency is at least indirectly supporting involuntary Chinese population policies:
"The circumstances of their operations are such that they are assisting the Chinese in managing their programs," he said. "These Chinese programs have penalties that amount to coercion. And therefore, we feel that by funding these programs, we would be indirectly helping the Chinese to improve their management of programs that result in coercive abortions, and that's prohibited by our law."
Mr. Boucher said American officials have discussed with the U.N. agency ways by which it could sever its connection to the objectionable Chinese policies, and have repeatedly urged China to end population-control practices that result in forced abortion.
But he said the present situation is "essentially the same" as it was in years past and the decision was made to block the funds. He said the administration is prepared to consider supporting the U.N. Population Fund in the future, if its program in China is restructured, or China ends its coercive practices.
The U.N. agency said Friday the U.S. assertion that it supports abortion in China is baseless. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which supports freedom of choice on abortion, said the administration decision is clearly based on election-year politics, with the White House pandering to anti-abortion groups.
A leading opponent of Chinese population policies in Congress, Republican House member Chris Smith, accused the U.N. agency of "shamelessly" supporting crimes against humanity in China, and said the United States will have no part in subsidizing it.
State Department spokesman Boucher said that despite withholding money for the U.N. Population Fund, the United States remains firmly committed to women's reproductive health, and is the world's largest donor to health programs for women and children.
He said this year it is providing one-point-eight billion dollars to this end through the U.S. Agency for International Development's Child Survival and Health Programs Fund, more than $400-million of which is for reproductive health including family planning.