BY CHRISTINA FARRELL
THE US congress has cut funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) because of its alleged links with China's forced-abortion policy.
In a dramatic 221 to 198 vote, the House of Representatives last Tuesday voted to block $100 million (approximately £65 million) in proposed funding for the UNFPA from America's foreign aid bill, severing a key source of UNFPA income.
The House approved an amendment to the State department reauthorisation bill, despite intense lobbying from UNFPA supporters. Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, chairman of the American bishops' committee for Pro-Life activities, had written to the House calling for support for the amendment. The vote was hailed by the Church and pro-life campaigners as affirming the dignity of women and their unborn children in developing nations. A spokeswoman for the US bishops' conference for prolife activities said coerced abortion was "a crime against humanity and an act of violence against women".
"It is disappointing that almost half the members of the House were tempted to treat this human rights violation as something that can Sc ignored or finessed when pursuing business as usual with population control groups," she said.
"In the end, however, the House took the right action, and we hope the Senate will do so as well."
In 1999, the last time the house voted on funding to the UNFPA, the vote was narrowly in favour. But continuing revelations of UNFPA's involvement in population control programmes in China have undermined support on Capitol Hill.
Critics say the UNFPA has bucked forced abortion and involuntary sterilisation. The UNFPA denies this.
Republican congressman Christopher Smith of New Jersey, who co-sponsored the amendment, said the UN population agency was the "chief apologist" for China's notorious one-child policy. He said: "This debate is all about coercion. I would hope that my friends who support
abortion would realise that coercion, whether it be forced sterilisation or forced abortion, is an unconscionable act; and when it is done with impunity by the Chinese government with their partner. the UN Population Fund, we need to disassociate ourselves from that kind of activity." In July 2002 the Bush administration withheld $34 million (about £1 I million) from the UNFPA because of its ties to coercive policies.
But the House international relations committee tried to overturn the decision by proposing an amendment to American law creating a distinction between direct and indirect support for coercion. Since the UNFPA does not directly coerce expectant mothers in China, the UNFPA stood to receive $100 million in funding.
The decision by the House of Representatives last week was in stark contrast to the support given to the UNFPA by the British government. The former international development secretary Clare Short gave public and prominent backing to UN population control.