- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe., Ruby MellenRuby Mellen is a fellow at Foreign Policy with a background in TV, print, and digital journalism. Before coming to FP, she covered the 2016 election as a news associate at CNN in Washington, D.C., working on State of the Union with Jake Tapper. Prior to that, she was a politics fellow at the Huffington Post. She was born in New York and is a dual citizen of Belgium and the United States.
The State Department announced Monday that it would cut funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a policy shift that could directly impact the lives of girls and women around the world.
Foggy Bottom claims that the UNFPA, which funds reproductive health and family planning in 150 countries around the world, “supports or participates in” the Chinese government’s policies of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization.
UNFPA said in a statement Tuesday that the State Dept.’s decision was based on an “erroneous” claim, and said its “work promotes the human rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination.”
A State Department spokesperson pointed to the 1985 Kemp-Kasten amendment, which prohibits U.S. taxpayer money from funding abortion or forced sterilization anywhere in the world. That spokesperson noted that China’s family planning policies are coercive, and that UNFPA partners with China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC), which is responsible for implementing China’s family planning policies.
However, some find the impetus behind the decision to be largely political, not legal.
“There are extreme conservatives in the House that have an overall appetite to cut off U.S. funding for basic healthcare for girls and women around the world, and unfortunately funding for UNFPA has been caught up in that political work,” said Seema Jalan, the executive director of the Universal Access Project at the U.N. Foundation.
The George W. Bush administration also defunded UNFPA in 2002 amid similar accusations related to the organization’s work in China. Former President Barack Obama reinstated funding when he took office.
The United States is the second largest donor to UNFPA overall, and its largest donor for front-line work in the Mediterranean, which includes the only clinic in Iraq for women who have survived sexual violence under the rule of the Islamic State.
UNFPA, in its statement refuting the State Department’s claims, also noted that, in 2016 alone, it helped 3 million couples prevent unwanted pregnancies and saved 2,340 from dying during pregnancy and childbirth. The 150 countries in which it operates are home to over 80 percent of the world’s population.
UNFPA is involved in crises from Syria to Yemen to South Sudan, because one in five women “of childbearing age” in crisis situation is likely to be pregnant.
The letter seemed to say that the $32.5 million allocated to UNFPA for the rest of the 2017 fiscal year would go instead to USAID, but a UNFPA representative told Foreign Policy that they had not been informed exactly when this will go into effect.
Other countries have already stepped in to fill the the United States’ gap. Nordic countries vowed to up their support for abortion and birth control services around the world while Canada pledged $650 million dollars to sexual and reproductive health programs over the next three years.
The pulling of funds is not related to the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy, which withdraws government funding from U.S. NGOs that mention or actively promote abortions abroad.
But the double whammy will “directly impact the the poorest girls and women on the planet,” Jalan said.
Update, April 4 2017, 5:04 pm ET: This piece was updated to include comment from the State Department spokesperson.
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