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Family planning: U.S. policy changing?

Several events in recent weeks suggest that the United States may be revising its policy on family planning assistance to developing countries. Most notable are two potentially far-reaching "anti-abortion" amendments that got tacked onto the House foreign aid bill. Their provisions, if enacted, could wipe out U.S. funding for the two largest family planning assistance organizations in the world -- the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) and International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), based in London, England. In recent years, the United States has provided roughly one-third of each group's financial backing.

Because the foreign aid bill that passed the Senate contains similar provisions, there is a strong possibility that these policy changes will survive intact through the compromise pacts drafted when lawmakers from both houses of Congress meet to iron out a foreign aid package acceptable to both bodies. Work on that compromise bill was due to begin July 25.

Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), leader of the House Pro-Life Caucus, authored the amendments. One of the amendments, prompted by reports of forced abortions, coerced sterilizations and infanticide in mainland China, was necessary to ensure that the existing U.S. policy of voluntary family planning support not be subverted, Smith told members of the House. The amendment prohibits use of any U.S. funds "to carry out population planning programs in the People's Republic of China, including through contributions to any international organization or any private and voluntary organization."

Moreover, the amendment would make the President responsible for determining annually whether any of the objectionable practices continued to occur as a direct or indirect result of China's population planning programs. If such a finding were made, the President would not only have to raise with Chinese officials the U.S. "humanitarian concern" over these practices, but would also have to consider imposing further sanctions against China until the practices ceased.

Finally, to put some teeth into its prohibition against using U.S. population assistance funds in China, the amendment would authorize the President to reduce--to zero, if he chose--those funds that the bill had earmarked for the UNFPA. The agency is slated to get roughly $51 million in U.S. funds this coming year.

Smith explained to the House that this threat of a drastic funding cut was needed to pressure UNFPA--as "co-managers of the coercive program in China" -- into making China adopt a more voluntary population control strategy. UNFPA spends roughly $10 million of its annual $150 million budget on programs in China.

This last proposal brought forth strong objections and rhetoric from other House members during floor debate of the issue. For example, Rep. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) criticized the suggestion that all of UNFPA's work in 114 other countries be jeopardized just to make a point to China. Roughly one-third of the agency's budget now goes for programs on maternal and child health, many of them in Africa.

What's more, she noted, "The Agency for International Development [AID] conducted a study recently and confirmed that UNFPA has nothing to do with the activities in China [to which Smith was objecting]. The presence of UNFPA in China has probably served to blunt them [the activities]," she said.

Snowe charged that Smith's attack on China seems to be part of "a trend and commitment to undermine all U.S. support for international family planning programs under the guise of opposition to abortion and coercive elements in China that we condemn."

But that Smith amendment passed the House, as did another prohibiting U.S. funds from going to any nongovernmental organization that "performs or actively promotes abortion" in foreign nations. Last December, the Reagan administration withdrew support from IPPF -- a group then receiving $17 million from the United States for its work in 118 countries -- because of the group's pro-abortion stance. The House bill would have overturned that measure--and policy--but for the second Smith amendment.

Ironically, Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) noted in her opposition to it, this amendment puts greater restrictions on the U.S. international family planning program than now exist on its domestic family planning counterpart.

In an unrelated measure, the Reagan administration selectively removed a long-standing requirement that AID-supported groups offering family planning counseling or services in developing countries tell their clients about all methods of family planning and offer referrals to organizations offering any of those services they cannot provide. From now on, centers offering information on "natural" family planning -- based on periods of "abstinence" -- need not offer information or referrals for alternative means of birth control.
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Author:Raloff, Janet
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 27, 1985
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