UNFPA Saddened by U.S. Decision Not to Rejoin Nations' Support For Multilateral Work to Protect Women's Health

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UNFPA Saddened by U.S. Decision Not to Rejoin Nations' Support For Multilateral Work to Protect Women's Health

Internet article

By: UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund

Date: September 10, 2005

Source: UNFPA. "UNPFA Saddened by U.S. Decision Not to Rejoin Nations' Support For Multilateral Work to Protect Women's Health." 〈http://www.unfpa.org/news/〉 (accessed February 14, 2006).

About the Author: UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is an international development agency that focuses on women's reproductive health issues around the globe.


In 1969, the United Nations created the United Nations Population Fund as a vehicle for promoting family planning and population control. The United States was instrumental in this agency's development. With a three-pronged approach—family planning, safe pregnancy and birth, and sexually-transmitted disease prevention—the UNFPA serves women and families in over 150 countries.

For the agency's first fifteen years, the United States was a strong supporter. In 1985, the U.S. passed the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which barred U.S. funding for any agency that "supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or sterilization." President Ronald Reagan reduced UNFPA funding by $10 million in 1985—the exact amount spent in China. President Reagan, along with pro-life organizations in the United States, claimed that China's use of "coercive abortion" as part of its "One Child" population control effort, violated U.S. law preventing the use of taxpayer money for funding abortions. This U.S. action to reduce funding to the agency prompted sharp criticism from the UNFPA and from reproductive health organizations worldwide.

A 1985 review of the Kemp-Kasten Amendment demonstrated that the UNFPA activities were not in violation of or in conflict with the amendment, but, regardless of this finding, President Reagan suspended funding for the UNFPA by year's end. From 1985 through President George H. W. Bush's administration, which ended in early 1993, the United States withheld UNFPA funding.

When President William J. Clinton took office in early 1993, the new administration determined that UNFPA activities did not violate the Kemp-Kasten Amendment and restored funding, while simultaneously withholding the portion of funds that would be spent in China. In 1999, Congress withheld all funds when UNFPA renewed its work in China in full, although Congress appropriated $25 million for the program the following year. When President George W. Bush took office in January 2001, he continued funding for UNFPA. By January 2002, the United States, however, blocked the release of more than $34 million to the UNFPA, citing China as the reason. As of March 2006, the United States continues to withhold the funding from the UNFPA.


UNITED NATIONS, New York The United States Administration's decision for the fourth consecutive year not to release $34 million appropriated by Congress for UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is regrettable, especially when leaders at the World Summit are stressing the need to act together on global concerns, the Fund said today. The funds are urgently needed for effective multilateral work in developing countries to prevent maternal and child deaths, stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, provide voluntary contraception and to support the work to end poverty.

The Administration's stated reason for continuing to withhold funds is simply incorrect, as an assessment team sent to China by the Administration itself found no evidence that UNFPA supports coercive abortions or sterilization, the Fund emphasized. To the contrary, it reported that UNFPA had registered its strong opposition to such practices. Other independent teams, from the British Parliament and a multi-faith panel of religious leaders, reached the same conclusion, some adding that UNFPA was a force for good, promoting positive change.

"This decision is disheartening because it contradicts clear evidence that UNFPA works hard to end coercion by proving the efficacy and superiority of the voluntary approach to family planning over any other alternative," said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, UNFPA's Executive Director. "We receive funding from 166 nations that believe in strengthening UNFPA's role as a leading voice for human rights in family planning, safe motherhood and AIDS prevention."

"I hope the United States will rejoin the family of nations that support our multilateral work to eliminate maternal deaths, prevent HIV/AIDS, empower women and reduce poverty," said Ms. Obaid. "Our task is made more urgent by the fact that more than 300 million poor women in the world suffer from short- and long-term illnesses related to pregnancy or childbirth, with more than half a million of them dying each year."

The current Administration has, so far, withheld $127 million in funds appropriated by Congress. One year's withheld funding of $34 million could prevent as many as 2 million unwanted pregnancies and 4,700 maternal deaths in developing countries. The funds could also be used to scale up promising maternal health and HIV-prevention efforts, as well as to treat young women suffering from obstetric fistula.

UNFPA's pilot assistance in several China counties is proving that a client-oriented and quality-of-care approach to reproductive health and family planning is the superior alternative to a target-driven system. The Fund is pushing for Chinese women to have increased choice and access to quality, voluntary family planning and reproductive health. Abortions, surgical contraception and maternal deaths have dropped in the counties, while more women are choosing their own methods of contraception.

UNFPA helps approximately 146 countries and territories increase access to reproductive health care, including voluntary contraception; to promote safe motherhood; and to prevent unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS.

The United States is the only country to ever deny funding to UNFPA for non-budgetary reasons in the agency's entire 36 years of operation.


The United Nations Family planning agency does not restrict itself to contraceptive advice or abortions; services offered by UNFPA include a wide range of women's reproductive health measures including family planning, contraceptive supplies, prenatal and obstetric care, abortion services, obstetrical surgery, and more.

UNFPA supporters point to the agency's funding of obstetric fistula programs as a victim in the U.S. culture war over the issue of abortion. For many women in developing countries, fistula complications create an unbearable physical problem that leaves the woman an outcast. A fistula is a canal or hole that forms between the bladder and the vagina or the rectum and the vagina. Generally these fistulas form as a result of prolonged labor during childbirth or as a result of tearing during birth. Urine and feces leak into the vagina, leaving the woman prone to infection, incontinence, and unpleasant odors in public. The condition makes these women pariahs in their communities in the developing world.

According to UNFPA figures, more than 2 million women worldwide suffer from fistulas; most fistula complications can be corrected through basic surgery, which UNFPA offers. Recent campaigns in Chad, Sudan, and Pakistan elevated awareness of fistula and brought media attention to the medical problem as well as funding problems. UNFPA leader Thoraya Obaid points to the "end fistula" campaign as one of many that suffer from the U.S. funding decision.

Meanwhile, officials from the George W. Bush administration—in spite of the State Department's own finding in 2002 that UNFPA activities do not include any coercive elements and therefore do not violate the Kemp-Kasten Amendment—continue to hold the funding. The Bush administration points to the "compensation fee" charged to Chinese families who have more than one child as a policy that could coerce women into having abortions to avoid paying the fee. UNFPA has repeatedly ignored U.S. requests to suspend operations in China.

The U.S. policy has triggered sharp criticism worldwide, since its inception in 1985. In February 2006, Britain announced that it would devote three million pounds to replace withheld U.S. funding, with no restrictions on the use of funds for reproductive health services worldwide.



LaFraniere, Sharon. "Nightmare for African Women: Birthing Injury and Little Help." New York Times (September 28, 2005).

Boseley, Sarah. "Britain Defies U.S. With Funding to Boost Safe Abortion Services." The Guardian (February 6, 2006).

Web sites

House.gov. "Letter to George Bush Asking for UNFPA Funding." 〈http://www.house.gov/maloney/issues/UNFPA/unfpa22702.pdf〉 (accessed February 14, 2006).

Thomas.gov. "Repairing Young Women's Lives Around the World Act." 〈http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c109:H.R.2811.IH:〉 (accessed February 14, 2006).

Audio and Visual Media

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Protect Every Child. Video tape number 390, 2002.