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U.S. Funding for the United National Population Fund (UNFPA) Witheld for the Third Consecutive Year

On July 16, the Bush administration once again denied funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the world’s largest provider of reproductive health programs. For the third consecutive year, the United States will withhold its $34 million contribution, funding that Congress had already set aside for the UNFPA, because of the agency’s efforts in China.

The Bush administration claims that funding the UNFPA would violate the Kemp-Kasten amendment, which prohibits funds to any organization that the president determines, "supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization."1 The UNFPA asserts this accusation is baseless, and Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, the agency’s executive director, has said the "UNFPA has not, does not, and will not ever condone or support coercive activities of any kind, anywhere."2

Whether or not the UNFPA violates Kemp-Kasten is hotly contested, and past presidents have interpreted the law differently. Those who refused funding to the UNFPA have relied on a broader interpretation of the amendment, arguing that by simply working in China, the UNFPA "supports or participates in" coercive family planning practices, even if the organization’s goal is to reduce such activities.

History of U.S Funding

Until the passage of Kemp-Kasten in 1985, the U.S. was a leading supporter of global family planning. President Reagan discontinued funding for the UNFPA in 1986 citing this amendment, and his successor, George Bush Senior, continued this practice throughout his term. President Clinton restored funding in 1993, although he prohibited the UNFPA from using U.S. money for Chinese programs.

At the beginning of his term in 2001, George W. Bush declared that his administration, like Clinton’s, would continue to support the UNFPA outside of China, and did so during his first year. For fiscal year 2002, Congress, in agreement with the Bush administration, raised its UNFPA funding commitment to $34 million, an increase of $9 million from the previous year.

But the administration would never release these appropriated funds. In the summer of 2002, the Bush administration, bowing to anti-UNFPA pressure led by Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ), announced a reversal of its previous funding decision.

Efforts to Undermine Funding

Smith and a few other House Representatives had successfully persuaded Bush that by having a program in China, the UNFPA was supporting Chinese population policy.3 This campaign against UNFPA was fueled by a report released in September 2001 by the Population Research Institute (PRI), an organization founded by Father Paul Marx that is vehemently opposed to family planning. Marx’s views are well documented: one article informs readers of his assertion that "wider access to contraception is at the root of most social evils and inevitably leads to abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, homosexuality, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, sterilization, divorce, and family breakdown."4

PRI had sent a paralegal, two translators, and a videographer to one of the 32 counties in China where UNFPA was working. They returned with tapes of roughly two-dozen Chinese people testifying that coercive practices still exist in the region. Stephen Mosher, PRI’s director, had conducted research in China himself while a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University, but was asked to leave China in 1981 after repeatedly violating the country’s rules.5 Two years later, in 1983, Mosher was expelled from Stanford, without finishing his degree, for "illegal and unethical conduct" surrounding a report he completed based on his work in China.6 Mosher has described the UNFPA as "the chief international cheerleader for China’s one-child policy".7

Other Views

Immediately following the release of the PRI report, the United Nations (UN) dispatched a team to investigate the allegations. Roughly six months later, in the spring of 2002, two more evaluations took place, one led by members of the British Parliament and the other by representatives of the U.S. State Department.

All three investigations found that UNFPA’s work contributed to positive change in China. The State Department report explicitly stated they found "no evidence that the UNFPA has knowingly supported or participated in the management of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization" in China.8 Nevertheless, the Bush administration began to block funds to UNFPA in 2002, even after the release of these three credible reports.

The UNFPA’s involvement was officially evaluated for a fourth time last year, when a multi-faith panel sponsored by Catholics for a Free Choice traveled to China. This group of ethicists and Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders wanted to better understand UNFPA’s role in China, and once again, their report documents that UNFPA has been a key catalyst for positive change in China.9

UNFPA’s Work in China

Current Chinese policy expects one child per urban family and two per rural family, with exceptions for ethnic minorities or other considerations. This policy is now enforced through "social compensation fees" which families are charged to cover the additional societal costs of having another child. These fees, and their collection, vary dramatically depending on the area.

Officially, the Chinese government opposes forced abortion and sterilization, and coercion in family planning decisions is now a criminal offense.10 However, critics feel this fee, which replaced the more abusive fine system, is still coercive in effect (these fees ultimately force women to have an abortion), and its existence forms the basis for withholding U.S. funding. Yet despite all of this concern, the UNFPA is the only organization, from any country or within the United Nations, on record for its opposition to this policy.11

While it is currently trying to reduce the impact of social compensation fees, the UNFPA has proven instrumental in eliminating quotas in certain regions. In 1994, China embraced the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which rejects numerical targets and asserts that all individuals have the right to freely plan their families, but the Chinese government also voiced concern about lifting quotas too rapidly.12, 13

To encourage China’s shift to these new guidelines set forth at the ICPD, the UNFPA offered to demonstrate that voluntary family planning programs can reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancies and abortions while not resulting in additional births.14 In return for their efforts, UNFPA demanded that the Chinese government halt all family planning quotas in those areas in which the UNFPA would operate. Between 1995 and 1997, the UNFPA ceased all operations in China while negotiating the terms of their involvement. It began work in 32 counties, where quotas were lifted, in 1998.

As a result of UNFPA efforts, abortion has declined by 30% in these counties, according to the Ministry of Health.15 Abortion rates are now below U.S. levels, contraceptive use is up to 90%, and female sterilization is down by 16% in these areas.16

The Chinese government has acknowledged this record of success, and is expanding voluntary family planning programs to an additional 800 counties. According to Maureen Shea, Director of Governmental Relations for the Episcopal Church USA, UNFPA’s programs achieved a lower birth rate while women were able to make informed and voluntary family planning decisions. While in China as part of the multi-faith delegation, she noted that these programs have proven to the Chinese government that men and women are capable of responsibly controlling birth rates on their own.17

Still No U.S. Funding

Despite these impressive results, the U.S. continues to withhold funding from the UNFPA. Reverend James Martin-Schramm, another member of the multi-faith delegation and a teacher at Luther College in Iowa, points out that President Bush is standing in the way of an organization that is achieving exactly what his administration stands for: decreasing abortion and involuntary sterilization.18

Ultimately, each administration’s interpretation of Kemp-Kasten has been the key factor in whether or not the U.S. gives appropriated funds to the UNFPA. In his announcement regarding the Bush Administration’s decision to withhold funds again this year, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "The United States recognizes that the [UNFPA] intends to promote a transition to a voluntary family planning program in China."

"We are prepared to consider funding the [UNFPA] in the future if its program in China is restructured in a way consistent with U.S. law, and if China ends its program of coercive abortion," Boucher continued.

Advocates argue that U.S. law is not applied consistently, however. Agencies like the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the World Bank also work with the same Chinese government agencies that enforce Chinese population policy, yet the U.S has chosen to prohibit funds only to the UNFPA.19

Ronald Green, chair of Dartmouth’s Religion Department and director of Dartmouth’s Ethics Institute, demands a fair and reasonable interpretation of the law, and asks that the U.S. exercise moral judgment in determining the UNFPA’s culpability, given the true meaning of "support" and "participation."20 Green, who also traveled to China on the most recent-fact finding mission, has commented "Not just politics, but human stakes" are involved. Green continued by explaining that this decision is harming our relationship with the people of China, the rest of the world that supports these interventions, and women and children who are suffering worldwide.21

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has said the administration’s decision to withhold funding again this year reveals the "worst of extremist, election year politics." He continued by saying, "They know full well that this decision will result in more abortions, not fewer, and it will only weaken the fund’s efforts to end coercion in China."22

"The UNFPA provides individuals with the information they need to make informed decisions and the services they need to lead healthy lives," said William Smith, director of public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). "By denying funding for these programs, the federal government is continuing to harm the health and well-being of women and children everywhere," Smith continued.

In July, the House Appropriations Committee rejected by a vote of 26-32 an amendment to the foreign aid spending bill that would have provided funding to the UNFPA outside of China. Rep. Nita Lowey’s (D-NY) amendment would have allocated $25 million for family planning services in Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, Pakistan, Kenya, and Tanzania.

To date, the U.S. is the only country in the world to deny its share of dues to the UNFPA for non-budgetary reasons. The U.S. contribution of $34 million is roughly 10% of the UNFPA’s total annual budget of $300 million, and the UNFPA estimates that this amount could have helped prevent 2 million unintended pregnancies; 800,000 abortions; 4,700 maternal deaths; and over 77,000 infant and child deaths worldwide. 23

Update written by Alissa Fishbane, SIECUS Intern.


  1. "Legislative Background: The Kemp-Kasten Amendment", June 2003. Available online.
  2. "UNFPA Regrets U. S. Administration’s Decision Not to Restore Funding," UNFPA Press Release, July 16, 2004. Available online.
  3. S. Cohen, "Bush Bars UNFPA Funding, Bucking Recommendation of Its Own Investigators," The Guttmacher Report on Public Policy, Volume 5, Number 4, October 2002, p.13.
  4. "Stalling on Family Planning Aid," Trenton Times, April 10, 2002
  5. M. Sun, "The Mysterious expulsion of Steven Mosher," Science, May 13, 1983. Vol 220, p. 692.
  6. W. Turner, "Stanford ousts a Ph.D. candidate over his use of data on China," New York Times, February 26, 1983, Section 1, p. 7.
  7. P. Goodenough, "Decision Not to Fund UNFPA Highlights Bush-Kerry Divide,", July 19, 2004. Available online.
  8. "Analysis of Determination that Kemp-Kasten Amendment Precludes Further Funding to UNFPA under Pub. L. 107-115," U.S. Department of State Press Release by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, July 18, 2002. Available online.
  9. The United Nations Population Fund in China: A Catalyst for Change, Report of an Interfaith Delegation to China. (Washington, D.C, Catholics for a Free Choice, July 2004) Available online.
  10. J. Kaufman, "Myths and Realities of China’s Population Program," Harvard Asia Quarterly, Vol 7, No 1 (Winter 2003): 21-25.
  11. Remarks made at briefing "The United Nations Population Fund: Report of an Interfaith Delegation to China," July 14, 2004, Washington, D.C.
  12. ICPD’s Programme of Action.
  13. The United Nations Population Fund in China: A Catalyst for Change, p.6.
  14. Ibid, p.8.
  15. Ibid, p.8.
  16. C. Marquis, "U.S. Cuts Off Financing Of U.N. Unit For 3rd Year," New York Times, July 17, 2004, Section A , Page 6 , Column 1.
  17. Remarks made at July 14, 2004 briefing.
  18. Ibid.
  19. "Legislative Background: The Kemp-Kasten Amendment"
  20. R.Green, Excerpt from "Population Policy in China: A Moral Analysis," printed in The United Nations Population Fund in China: A Catalyst for Change.
  21. Remarks made at July 14, 2004 briefing.
  22. P. Richter, "Citing Chinese Abortions, U.S. Refuses to Fund U.N. Program," Los Angeles Times, July 17, 2004
  23. "UNFPA Regrets U. S. Administration’s Decision Not to Restore Funding," UNFPA Press Release, July 16, 2004. Available online.