By Our Foreign Staff, 4 APRIL 2017 •
The Trump administration is cutting off US funding to the United Nations agency for reproductive health under an abortion-related provision in law that Democratic and Republican administrations have used as a cudgel in the global culture wars.
The UN Population Fund will lose $32.5 million in funding from the 2017 budget, the State Department said, with funds shifted to similar programs at the US Agency for International Development. The administration accused the agency, through its work with China’s government, of supporting population control programs in China that include coercive abortion.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the UN fund would also lose out on tens of millions of additional dollars it has typically received from the US in “non-core” funds.
By halting assistance to the UN Population Fund, the Trump administration is following through on promises to let socially conservative policies that President Donald Trump embraced in his campaign determine the way the US government operates and conducts itself in the world. Though focused on forced abortion — a concept opposed by liberals and conservatives alike — the move to invoke the “Kemp-Kasten amendment” was sure to be perceived as a gesture to anti-abortion advocates and other conservative interests.
The policy change comes days before Trump is set to host Chinese President Xi Jinping for a highly anticipated meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. In a shift from President Barack Obama’s approach, Trump has avoided elevating human rights concerns in diplomacy, with White House officials saying those issues are most effectively advanced by raising them with foreign leaders in private.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was notified of the move by the State Department in a letter received Monday. The letter followed a formal designation by Tom Shannon, the State Department’s undersecretary of political affairs, that said the fund “supports, or participates in the management of, a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.”
Under a three-decade-old law, the US is barred from funding organizations that aid or participate in forced abortion of involuntary sterilization. It’s up to each administration to determine which organizations meet that condition. The UN Population Fund has typically been cut off by Republican presidents and restored when Democrats control the White House.
In a lengthy memorandum obtained by The Associated Press, the State Department said the UN fund partners with China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission, responsible for overseeing China’s “two-child policy.” It said the UN collaborates with the Chinese agency on family planning. Still, the memo acknowledged there was no evidence of UN support for forced abortions or sterilization in China.
The UN Population Fund, known as UNFPA, said it regretted the US move and argued it was “erroneous” to suggest it was complicit in China’s policies.
“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,” the agency said in a statement.
Starting in 1979, China had a “one-child policy” enforced in many cases with state-mandated abortions. But the policy was eased over the years, and now allows married couples to have two children, in a nod to the aging population in the world’s most populous country.