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Slowing the growth of population control

International | Even some religious agencies supportive of population control are backing an effort in Congress to take some money out of the hands of pro-abortion organizations

Issue: "Campaigning from the closet," Sept. 19, 1998

The receptionist taking calls at Andean Rural Health, Inc., sounds more Appalachian than Andean. The storefront for this multimillion-dollar, private, non-profit relief agency is a converted residence facing Lake Junaluska, a retreat center in the North Carolina mountains owned by the United Methodist Church, where Andean Rural Health has its roots.

With 16 years of health care experience in Bolivia, Andean Rural Health is beginning its fourth contract with the State Department's U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The contract runs four years as a matching grant. USAID gives $1 million under its child survival and disease program for Andean Rural Health to treat medical needs in the altiplano, or high plains, regions of Bolivia. An additional $1 million comes from individual Methodist churches, some Presbyterian and Lutheran congregations, and private donors. Andean Rural Health keeps fewer than 10 employees in North Carolina, its U.S. headquarters, with 90-100 employees in Bolivia. Program director Sara Espada is circumspect about the agency's long-standing work with the government: "The AID grant is in some ways restrictive, but it fits with our organization's mission: improving the health of rural people in the Andes."

Even so, Andean Rural Health is part of a dozen international relief organizations that have joined pro-life members of Congress to change the way Washington hands out the money. In the same motion, their effort, if successful, would cut the amount of taxpayer money going to overseas population-control programs and groups that press for liberalized abortion laws in other countries.

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The amendment to upcoming foreign operations funding, proposed by U.S. Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), would shift $100 million from controversial population-control programs to child-survival programs. Groups like Andean Rural Health want to distance themselves from the controversial side of USAID work, the population control programs, and get back to basics: providing clean water and sound advice about nutrition and health care. After all, who can be against child survival?

For starters, the Clinton administration.

Photo-ops of First Lady Hillary Clinton touring the orphanages of the Third World aside, President Clinton has proposed cuts in child-survival spending for the last three years. At the same time, the administration has sought to increase federal spending for population-control programs. It also has renewed its support for the UN Population Fund. This year the UN agency launched a four-year demonstration project in China. The project claims to promote "voluntarism" in family planning throughout China, in spite of evidence that China's communist regime continues to perform forced sterilizations and other coercive types of "family planning" (see WORLD, June 27, 1998).

In contrast, child-survival programs focus on preventing diarrhea, acute respiratory infection, measles, malaria, and malnutrition. All are leading causes of death among children under five in the developing world. Health officials say 12 million of those deaths each year are preventable.

The groups petitioning Congress for the change include heavy hitters like World Vision, Catholic Relief Services, and the Salvation Army. Other church-based organizations include World Relief, the Adventist Development & Relief Agency, and Andean Rural Health Care. Also signed on are Christian Children's Fund, Esperanca, Food for the Hungry, Project Concern, Project Hope, and the International Eye Foundation.

"What we are trying to do is get a little bit more money for these things, which are very, very cheap," Mr. Pitts, who is founder of the Congressional Life Forum and a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus, told WORLD. "Population-control programs are expensive, and we keep hearing reports of contraceptives stacked to the ceiling while they can't get a simple pill in some health clinics."

Mr. Pitts continued, "I am not a fan of population-control monies. I think there is a lot of waste and money is fungible. It is going to organizations who use it to promote abortion."

He is also concerned about fungible terminology. Groups supporting aggressive population-control programs increasingly use child-survival programs, for instance, to advance their agenda. Counseling on the use of contraceptives and distributing them as well are done under the rubric of "birth spacing" and "maternal health," components of child-survival packages. "This addresses that issue by defunding it," said Mr. Pitts. "It represents rearranging priorities."

But that may be more than relief agencies are counting on, because even the most broadly evangelical ones-to varying degrees-are part of the population-control groupthink.

World Vision, the largest Christian relief and development organization, participates in USAID family-planning programs in its overseas operations, which include more than 4,000 programs in nearly 100 countries. World Vision has distributed condoms as part of AIDS prevention programs in Africa and controversial "post-conception" contraceptive devices in some of its health clinics. These include IUDs (intra-uterine devices) and Norplant injections and are regarded by many Christians as causing abortions.

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