WASHINGTON — In China's Chongqing municipality, where United Nations Population Fund workers assist Chinese family-planning officials, coercive population control is a fact of life.

Couples who break government birth-control laws face penalties of two to three times their combined annual salaries. Fines double for repeat offenders. Any difficulty collecting the fees or late payments, according to current government regulations, results in an additional penalty.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher cited these regulations when he announced July 22 the Bush administration's decision to withdraw $34 million earmarked for the U.N.'s population control agency, known as UNFPA, on grounds that it has aided the Chinese government in coercing abortions and sterilizations.

“While Americans have different views on the issue of abortion, I think all agree that no woman should be forced to have an abortion,” Boucher said. “After careful consideration of the law and all the information that's available … we came to the conclusion that the U.N. Population Fund moneys go to Chinese agencies that carry out coercive programs.

“Regardless of the size of the UNFPA's budget in China or any benefit that its programs provide,” he said of the agency, which has operations in 32 Chinese counties, “support of and involvement in China's population-planning activities allows the Chinese government to implement more effectively its program of coercive abortion.”

The Bush administration will direct the $34 million Congress set aside for UNFPA to other “population programs” within the U.S. Agency for International Develop-ment's Child Survival and Health Program Fund, Boucher added.

This will boost the total the United States spends directly on population programs worldwide to $480.5 million this year from $446.5 million.

UNFPA denounced the decision. “The loss will be devastating for women and families in the poorest countries,” said Thoraya Obaid, the agency's executive director, in a public statement. She denied UNFPA supported the Chinese government's one-child policy and said the UNFPA's presence in China was moving it away from coercion toward a “voluntary approach.”

Her statement alleged that the displaced $34 million — 12.5% of the organization's total budget — might have prevented 2 million unwanted pregnancies, nearly 800,000 abortions and 77,000 infant and child deaths.

Pro-abortion advocates lined up behind the population control agency. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., wrote a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, who signed the funding decision though last year he had applauded the UNFPA's work as “invaluable.” Boxer charged that the State Department had been “hijacked by right-wing domestic policy-makers in the White House.”

U.S. Law

Boucher, however, said the State Department had little choice in the matter. The Kemp-Kasten Amendment forbids taxpayer funding of coercive family planning programs and abortion.

“Our hope is that this step will bring us into compliance with U.S. law,” he said. “We don't want to spend money [or] send U.S. taxpayer money into a stream of funding that ends up partly going into the hands of people who carry out coercive abortion.”

A New York Times editorial attacked the decision as fueled by “mind-bending illogic” and called it an obvious capitulation to “right-wing anti-abortion activists.”

Like many other major media outlets, the Times declined to report on documentation of widespread coercion, including coercive abortions and sterilizations, that has occurred under the Chinese govern-ment's population program. Instead, the Times cited a report from a three-member investigative team the State Department sent to China in May.

It stated that UNFPA did not knowingly support China's human rights abuses and recommended the agency be given the $34 million.

The State Department team did find evidence of coercion in China, however, and suggested the agency not spend the U.S. funding in China.

Boucher said the report was considered, as were Chinese documents reviewed later that the investigators had suggested the department obtain. “When we did that … it became much clearer where the decision had to go,” Boucher told reporters.

State Department lawyers who reviewed the additional information cited instances where UNFPA provided materials such as computers and vehicles that became part of coercive Chinese programs. They were used to send notices to people about not having further children and to enforce punishments.

“In the context of the [People's Republic of China] they are supplying equipment to the very agencies that employ coercive practices. And that amounts to support or participation in the management of the program,” Boucher said.

Pro-Life Concerns

While pro-lifers applauded the decision to withdraw UNFPA funding, some groups have expressed concern about giving the money to USAID instead. The American Life League warned that this would mean the funding of programs that distribute abortifacient contraceptives.

“The concern is that USAID has a population control component, too,” said Ed Szymkowiak, national director of STOPP International, a division of American Life League. “You may be stopping forced surgical abortions, but that isn't going to stop the use of abortifacients.”

Szymkowiak cited a document TITLEd “Overview of USAID Populations Assistance for the Year 2000” (the most recent data available). It noted that in 2000, USAID shipped 1.24 million IUDs (implanted birth control devices that cause early abortions).

But Steven Mosher, president of the Front Royal, Va.-based Population Research Institute, applauded the Bush administration for defunding UNFPA. He said channeling the $34 million to appropriate programs was a separate battle.

Mosher's group was instrumental in initiating the State Department review of UNFPA funding. Last year, the Population Research Institute sent a covert team to China's Guandong province, where UNFPA officials share office space with government family-planning officials. The investigators videotaped and audiotaped testimonies of more than two dozen witnesses documenting pressures ranging from imprisonment and forced abortions to family-planning officials destroying homes.

The press office of the European Union announced a pledge by the EU commissioner of 32 million euro to UNFPA in the wake of the Bush administration's decision to make up for the loss to the agency. But Mosher doubts the money will actually make it into the agency's hands because of its tainted record and growing lack of support for it.

Dana Scallon, a pro-life Irish Member of the European Parliament, said the Irish Constitution forbids tax funding of abortions abroad and she intends to make defunding UNFPA a priority when the Parliament reopens later this month.

Scallon also said she intends to challenge the EU commissioner's pledge to the UNFPA. “The commissioners are not elected,” Scallon said. “We have to question what authority they have to do this. The EU has no legal right to use public money to fund abortions, let alone forced abortions.”

UNFPA and Peru

UNFPA's entanglement in human rights abuses is not confined to China. In Peru, a congressional commission issued a report at the end of July that said more than 200,000 women were forced or intimidated into undergoing surgical sterilization in a family-planning campaign conducted under former president Alberto Fujimori between 1996 and 2000.

The report states that UNFPA acted as “Technical Secretary” of the infamous program and “increased their support and even participation in the task during the government of the ex-president.” Fujimori, who has been in exile in Japan since fleeing the country in 2000, is to be charged with genocide for his role in the campaign.

UNFPA spokeswoman Kristin Hetle said last week that Peru's sterilization campaign is “an old story” and said that UNFPA, when it learned of the human rights abuses from the media in 1997, began trying to correct the situation.

But Mosher said the Peruvian report is “another black eye” for UNFPA, which he called a “rogue organization with an anti-people agenda.” Mosher also denounced UNFPA's claim that lives would be lost because of the U.S. withdrawal of funding. Claiming to “save lives” by contracepting, aborting and sterilizing women is like “ending traffic fatalities by forcing people to stop driving cars,” he said.

The $34 million in U.S. funding could save hundreds of thousands of lives and reduce infant and maternal mortality, Mosher said, if directed instead to prenatal care and helping women in delivery and other basic health care programs.

“It's time we take a hard look at the costs of population control programs,” Mosher said. “Costs in terms of human rights. Costs in terms of undermining primary health care programs. And the fact they make no sense in a world of rapidly falling birthrates.

“Defunding the UNFPA is a first step toward ending this war on people.”

Celeste McGovern writes from Portland, Oregon.