Cutting off the ultimate resource

Abortion | Hidden in UNFPA's annual report is an agenda to eliminate poor people, not help them

Issue: "Signs and wonders," Jan. 26, 2008

Manual vacuum aspirators are hand-operated syringes used to suck out of the womb and kill tiny babies. With no electricity needed, they are particularly useful to abortionists in refugee camps and impoverished villages. Strict rules prohibit the New York--based United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) from promoting abortion as a form of family planning, but the organization nevertheless distributes the killing devices worldwide.

You wouldn't necessarily know that from UNFPA's annual report, released this month, which notes its 1,031 posts worldwide and its work in 154 countries promoting reproductive health, gender equality, and effective population policies. Its list of goals-to "ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect"-does not speak of abortion, although the implication is present: What happens when a pregnancy is not wanted?

In spending its $605.5 million budget, UNFPA repeatedly claims to obey this principle established at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD): "In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning." A plea for donations reads, "UNFPA fully subscribes to this and does not provide support for abortion services. It works to prevent abortion through family planning, and to help countries provide services for women suffering from the complications of unsafe abortion."

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But Susan Yoshihara of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute looks at such language with experience in parsing euphemisms. She says "unsafe abortion" often means "illegal abortion," and the term "reproductive health" is also "deliberately opaque." UNFPA defines reproductive health services to include "interventions to address maternal mortality, gender-based violence, harmful practices, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and adolescent reproductive health, as well as family planning."

Abortion is not on the list, but the UN has never legally defined the phrase "reproductive health" to exclude abortion, so it's "an open secret that it's used to promote abortion in some countries." Yoshihara also said an effort to reduce "maternal mortality" often means an effort to do away with "unsafe" abortion: "The idea is to link maternal mortality rates to legalized abortion, what they call reproductive rights."

UNFPA circumvents ICPD's prohibition on abortion promotion by giving money to groups that are staunch abortion advocates. UNFPA-sponsored groups include the International Planned Parenthood Federation, an organization that boasts 58,000 abortion facilities and 32 million visitors yearly. Marie Stopes International also receives funds from UNFPA, providing 5 million people in 38 countries with reproductive health services, including "safe abortion." Another group, the Population Council, aims to reduce "the morbidity and mortality caused by unsafe abortion." Pro-lifers know that every abortion takes at least one life, but the Population Council's mortality statistics include only the rare maternal death.

UNFPA directly supports abortion by distributing manual vacuum aspirators (MVAs) in emergency reproductive health kits, according to a C-FAM report, The United Nations Population Fund: Assault on the World's Peoples. MVAs have legitimate medical uses-to evacuate a woman's uterus after a miscarriage, for example-so UNFPA is free to distribute them for "menstrual regulation." But pro-abortion groups tout the MVAs for use in non-clinic settings like refugee camps and in countries where abortion is illegal: If an abortionist uses a manual vacuum aspirator before performing a pregnancy test, he doesn't have to call it an abortion.

UNFPA also provides emergency contraceptives-another form of "quiet abortion." Women can take these contraceptives up to 72 hours after intercourse to prevent the implantation of a fertilized embryo.

The ICPD also prohibits the UNFPA from promoting coercive family planning: "The principle of informed free choice is essential to the long-term success of family-planning programmes. Any form of coercion has no part to play." But UNFPA works in China, where the government limits families to one child each and forces women to undergo abortions and sterilization. The government recently punished hundreds of families with more than one child by levying fines, relieving 395 people of their government jobs, and banishing 500 Communist Party members.

UNFPA, arguing that it works with China to encourage voluntary family planning, points to a 2002 State Department investigation that found "no evidence that UNFPA has knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in the PRC." But in a 2002 letter to Congress, Colin Powell stated that UNFPA provided computers and supplies to offices involved in coercive family planning: "UNFPA's support of, and involvement in, China's population-planning activities allows the Chinese government to implement more effectively its program of coercive abortion."


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