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Women and children last: Trump strips global family planning organization of US funds

The United Nations Population Fund works for women and children in 150 countries.

AFG: Afghan Mobile Health Teams Bring care To Remote Mountain Villages Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

The Trump administration on Monday announced that it will strip the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA), which works on reproductive health, family planning, HIV/AIDS, and infant and maternal mortality in more than 150 countries, of all US funding.

The administration claims the organization is in violation of the 1985 Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which forbids US funding of organizations that support or participate in forced sterilizations and abortions.

The UNFPA has vigorously denied the charge.

“This decision is based on the erroneous claim that UNFPA ‘supports, or participates in the management of, a programme of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization’ in China,” a statement on the UNFPA website reads. “UNFPA refutes this claim, as all of its work promotes the human rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination.”

Indeed, a State Department memo obtained by the Associated Press appeared to confirm there was no evidence that US money had supported forced abortion or sterilization in China.

The move was expected, but a blow nonetheless: The US is the fourth-largest donor to the organization, which will now lose $32.5 million in funding from the 2017 budget, according to the State Department.

Women and girls around the world will suffer

It’s not the first time the US has defunded the UNFPA. The George W. Bush administration similarly cited Kemp-Kasten to strip funding in 2002, claiming UNFPA was complicit in forced sterilizations and abortions as part of China’s one-child policy. A Guardian op-ed at the time estimated the lost funding would have prevented 2 million unintended pregnancies and the deaths of 77,000 children.

Like the global gag rule (or “Mexico City Policy”), which denies global health organizations the right to even discuss abortion as a condition for receiving US aid money, defunding the UNFPA is done, traditionally, by Republican administrations catering to a conservative base. Democratic presidents — including President Obama in 2009 — typically reinstate the funding.

This administration has taken the debate about US funding for international organizations a step further than a conversation on reproductive health globally. It has also called into question our contributions to the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, as well as the UNFPA, since arriving in office.

United Nations Foundation president and CEO Kathy Calvin called the defunding “unacceptable and in stark contrast to American values” in a statement:

UNFPA is on the front lines in more than 150 countries, often in places where the U.S. can’t be, providing critical services, such as voluntary family planning, midwife training, pre-natal care and safe delivery services, and working to end child marriage and female genital mutilation. UNFPA does not fund or perform abortions or forced sterilizations anywhere in the world. Instead, the agency offers voluntary family planning to prevent unintended pregnancies which, in turn, empowers girls and women to pursue an education, earn an income, and live more prosperous lives.

The statement went on to note, for example, that US funding for UNFPA had worked to ensure safe childbirth for refugees in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan and funded the only Iraqi clinic for survivors of “physical abuse, sexual violence, and other horrific atrocities inflicted by ISIL.”

The effect of defunding the United Nations Population Fund is that the lives, and reproductive health, of women internationally are buffeted about by an American domestic debate about abortion in which they play no part.

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