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Women's health held hostage to politics
By A TIMES EDITORIAL
Published September 23, 2007
Since 2001, Congress has annually appropriated money to the United Nations Population Fund, and every year the Bush administration has withheld the money. Earlier this month, the administration did it again, withholding $34-million that Congress had directed for UNFPA support.
The administration claims that this has to do with the UNFPA's ongoing work in China, where the government has been known to engage in involuntary sterilization and coerced abortions. But the State Department's own fact-finding said that UNFPA's work actually has helped reduce the prevalence of coerced abortions.
The UNFPA does vital work in China, including educating women on HIV prevention, prenatal care and family planning. It actively works against coercive reproductive policies as an advocate for reform within the country.
The real story is that the claimed justification by President Bush is just a smokescreen. What he's really doing is appeasing his most conservative supporters.
The UNFPA is the world's largest source of aid for maternal health care, including providing women with skilled birthing attendants and emergency obstetric care. But because the agency assists women in controlling their reproduction, the Christian conservative arm of the Republican Party objects to its work.
This isn't about abortions. It is about granting the world's poorest women the means of preventing an unwanted pregnancy. Each year, UNFPA provides 500-million of these women with contraception.
All told, the Bush administration has withheld $195-million from UNFPA, money that could have prevented upward of 244,000 maternal deaths and kept 68-million women from an unwanted pregnancy. But the numbers don't sufficiently communicate the misery that Bush has consigned to those he could have so easily helped. When a mother dies in childbirth, she often leaves behind other young children who have to survive without their vital maternal lifeline.
We also know that one way certain to reduce poverty in any Third-World nation is to give women control over their fertility. When women can delay their first pregnancy and limit childbirth to sustainable numbers, children do better and so does society. Yet the Bush administration is willing to trade this promise of a better life for millions of poor women and their children for a few political points.
Congress is considering its 2008 appropriation to UNFPA. Unfortunately, an amendment to the foreign operations appropriation measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas continues to allow Bush to withhold the UNFPA monies at his discretion. It looks like once again women's health will be sacrificed for political reasons.