Women’s Health Advocates Push Back on Biden Administration’s Increased Funding to Organizations Promoting Abortion Abroad

Experts raise concerns about increased funding for family planning groups that promote abortion.

Flags of all nations outside the UN in New York City.
Flags of all nations outside the UN in New York City. (photo: Andrew F. Kazmierski / Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON — Pro-life and women’s health advocates are calling attention to increased U.S. funding going to organizations that promote abortion overseas, in what they say is a misalignment of priorities that diverts funds away from the health issues that actually need to be addressed internationally.

In an April 7 White House Fact Sheet outlining its “commitment to global health” in the 2023 fiscal year federal budget, the Biden administration said it is increasing the funding in an effort to “advance sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, in support of accelerating progress toward universal health coverage and gender equality.” One significant element is funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which has alleged ties to forced abortion and sterilization in China, as well as longstanding involvement in abortion advocacy. The Biden administration budgeted $56 million for the organization in FY 2023, a 72% increase over the amount enacted in the 2022 budget. The Biden administration has also requested $572 million for “family planning and reproductive health,” a 9% increase over the amount enacted in the 2022 budget.  

Valerie Huber, the former U.S. special representative for global women’s health at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Trump administration, recently founded the Institute for Women’s Health in response to what she sees as misplaced priorities when it comes to funding for women’s health overseas.

She told the Register that in her previous role, she “saw firsthand how the whole topic of women’s health was being co-opted by other agendas and the result that we saw, especially in the developing world, is that real women were suffering from health conditions that were totally preventable, totally curable, sometimes even dying as a result, simply because priorities were misaligned from the true needs of women and these controversial agendas where derailing authentic advances for women all around the world.” 


UNFPA’s Abortion Advocacy

In regard to the 2023 budget, she said she saw “more of the same” in this regard, and said the additional funding for UNFPA was troubling because, in addition to the concerns over their alleged involvement in coerced abortion in China, UNFPA “has become a mechanism in the United Nations to push and pressure countries regarding abortion.” 

When the Trump administration announced its decision to cut funding to UNFPA in 2017, the State Department explained in a memorandum, “China's population-control policy relies on measures such as mandatory pregnancy examinations and coercive abortions and sterilizations.” 

The memorandum concluded that “while there is no evidence that UNFPA directly engages in coercive abortions or involuntary sterilizations in China, the agency continues to partner with the NHFPC [the country’s family planning commission] on family planning, and thus can be found to support, or participate in the management of China's coercive policies.” 

UNFPA denies that it is involved in China’s coerced abortions or sterilizations.

UNFPA states on its website that it “does not promote abortion” and “does not promote changes to the legal status of abortion, which are decision-making processes that are the sovereign preserve of countries,” but “accords the highest priority to voluntary family planning to prevent unintended pregnancies in order to eliminate recourse to abortion.” However, Huber pointed out that in its other public pronouncements, UNFPA promotes abortion and changes to abortion law. In a document with recommendations for advancing women’s rights from a 2013 meeting, for example, UNFPA asserted that “all governments should remove abortion from their criminal law.”

And in a document released last week, UNFPA called unintended pregnancy a “human rights crisis” and stated “while abortion access is principally governed through national law (UNFPA, 1994), human rights norms increasingly affect the scope of national legislation. In 2019, for instance, the United Nations Committee on Civil and Political Rights indicated that all States should decriminalize abortion and ensure that legal abortion be available to preserve a woman’s life and health; furthermore, States may not place administrative or other barriers in the way of women seeking a legal abortion.”

The Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), another pro-life U.N. watchdog, challenged some of the findings of the UNFPA report on “unintended pregnancies” in an April 8 report from Rebecca Oas, the organization’s director of research.  

While the report claimed that an “unmet need for contraception” is “the biggest issue, by far” generating these pregnancies, C-Fam noted that surveys have shown that only about 5% of women who don’t use artificial contraception cite lack of access as their reason. Instead, they refrain because of concerns about potential side effects and health risks, personal opposition to using such methods, and a lack of a need to use them because they have a low risk of becoming pregnant. 

“In most cases, the explanation for ‘unmet need’ looks less like a human rights violation and more like women making decisions about their own bodies, a concept UNFPA strongly promotes,” Oas commented.

Elyssa Koren, director of United Nations advocacy at Alliance Defending Freedom International, told the Register that last year alone, the U.S. gave $90 million to the U.N. agency, becoming UNFPA’s largest country donor. She said that “despite being technically prohibited from direct abortion promotion, UNFPA is the primary driver of the international abortion agenda from within the U.N., leveraging its clout to force countries, particularly from the developing world, to legalize abortion.” 

She said that UNFPA’s “coercive tactics contravene the national laws and policies of pro-life countries, and effectively represent a form of neo-colonialism where governments are compelled to cede on the protection of life in order to obtain much needed development assistance from the U.N.” 

Koren also said there was “clear evidence that UNFPA is involved in providing illicit abortion services in countries where the practice is illegal through various programs such as the ‘Minimum Initial Services Package’ (MISP) for humanitarian assistance.” A U.N. document describing the MISP kits noted that they contain “Vacuum Extraction for Delivery (manual) kit” and “Management of Complications of Abortion Kit.” 

One of the goals of these MISP kits is to “prevent unintended pregnancy” and UNFPA calls the kit “an international standard of care that should be implemented at the onset of every emergency.” 

In an April 9 press release, UNFPA highlighted that it had sent such “medical kits” to the Donbas region of Ukraine in 2019, “to address issues related to Ukrainian women’s sexual and reproductive health.” 


Abortion Under ‘Sexual and Reproductive Health’ 

In one document, highlighted by Huber, UNFPA aims to “ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health” by bringing down “numerous legal barriers and conflicting plural legal systems that prevent many women, and adolescents in particular, from making autonomous decisions about their reproductive their sexual and reproductive health.” The U.N. agency claims “barriers are most prevalent in the case of legal access to abortion, with an average of just 31% achievement in this component,” and lists the countries that have barriers to abortion access. 

Grace Melton, the Heritage Foundation’s senior associate for international social issues, noted that the U.N. uses terms surrounding access to sexual and reproductive health “to pressure other countries into changing their laws. They say by definition, if you criminalize abortion in any way, if you restrict it, if you require parental consent for a girl who’s underage to get an abortion or you require waiting periods or any sort of restrictions ... it’s a restriction that causes unsafe abortions.”

Melton also pointed out that in the White House’s National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, released in October, the administration calls for “promoting access to sexual and reproductive health and rights both at home and abroad” as “a prerequisite for gender equity and equality.” She said this language of sexual and reproductive health was a “euphemism for abortion” and that President Biden’s budget only further “betrays the fact that abortion under the whole rubric of sexual and reproductive health is a priority for him.” 


WHO, USAID Involvement with Abortion 

Huber also noted the recent guidance out of the U.N.’s World Health Organization, which recommends “the full decriminalization of abortion” and states “that access to and continuity of comprehensive abortion care be protected against barriers created by conscientious objection.” 

The WHO guidance adds that “if it proves impossible to regulate conscientious objection in a way that respects, protects and fulfils abortion seekers’ rights, conscientious objection in abortion provision may become indefensible.” 

Biden’s 2023 funding requests includes support for “efforts to strengthen our partnerships with multilateral global health institutions, including the World Health Organization.” 

Melton pointed out that “the World Health Organization is part of the United Nations and the UNFPA is part of the United Nations. All these organizations refer to each other and they count on each other’s description of things,” regarding the WHO’s new abortion guidance.

Huber predicted the document will be used “as an instrument to further pressure nations that want to protect life at all stages.” 

Koren raised additional concerns about the family planning funds going to the U.S. Agency for International Development in the 2023 budget, saying this confers “more flexibility for funds to be given directly to big-abortion NGOS, including International Planned Parenthood Federation and MSI (Marie Stopes International) Reproductive Choices.”

USAID is a “central partner in the Family Planning 2030 (FP2030) partnership, a global alliance aimed at empowering women and girls by investing in rights-based family planning,” according to its website. Other partners in that alliance include the International Planned Parenthood Federation, MSI Reproductive Choices, and UNFPA.


Taking a Hard Look at U.S. Funding

Melton noted that the president’s budget request maintained the Helms Amendment, which states that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions,” but added that the administration is “undermining the efficacy of Helms” through its funding of groups that promote and provide abortion.

Supporting abortion overseas with U.S. tax dollars is very unpopular. Recent Marist polling found that 73% of Americans oppose funding to support abortion overseas, including 59% of those who identify as “pro-choice.” 

With her new organization, Huber emphasized, “we have to ask the hard questions: Are nations and international organizations more interested about solving those health crises or are they more interested in their own ideological agendas subsuming and consuming the women's health agenda? That's one of those points of honest discourse that should no longer be avoided.”

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at West Allis Central High School on July 23 in West Allis, Wisconsin.

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