Coalition Letter to Sect. Rice: UNFPA Funding

September 15, 2005

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Madame Secretary,

As supporters and partners of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, we are writing to express our disappointment and frustration that you have once again denied funding to this vital U.N. agency. It was our sincere hope that this year, under your leadership, the decision would have been a positive one, restoring U.S. leadership to international family planning assistance. It is not too late to reverse your decision.

At the United Nations World Summit, the United States joined the global consensus that seeks to end deep poverty, prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, achieve universal primary education and promote women’s equality and universal reproductive health care. A U.S. decision to restore funding to UNFPA would have been a swift and concrete indication to the rest of the world that the reality of U.S. policy now matches U.S. rhetoric. Instead, just one day after President Bush’s speech to the U. N. General Assembly, your office once again has chosen politics over saving the lives of women living in the most vulnerable circumstances who are in need of life-saving reproductive health care.

To date, the Bush administration has withheld a total of $127 million that Congress has sought since 2001 to provide to UNFPA, on grounds the decision “sends a message” of protest to the government of China over its abuses of human rights. Meanwhile, more than $200 billion in U.S. trade continues with that nation. This makes little sense. Further, not one penny of the withheld UNFPA funding, had it materialized, would have gone to China, or to promote or perform abortions anywhere in the world. Rather it would have helped provide critical services to women in 139 other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. The U.S. hands-off policy has had no impact on China’s behavior, but it has caused measureless suffering to women worldwide.

By contrast, UNFPA’s small family planning pilot program in China (financed from non-U.S. sources) illustrates the value of engagement and hands-on contact as a means to change. The program helps impoverished and vulnerable women in 32 counties plan their families, while helping the government move towards respect for the rights of women and men to decide for themselves the number and spacing of their children and move away from practices that use force and coercion that violate human rights. Your own department determined in 2002 that UNFPA’s program was neither complicit nor involved in any coercive activity. In fact, the project has been so successful that more than 800 Chinese counties have petitioned to adopt UNFPA’s voluntary approach.

The U.S. government and UNFPA share a common agenda – reducing child marriage, empowering women and girls, eradicating obstetric fistulae, bringing rights to women in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ending the scourge of human trafficking. They also share the belief that coercion has no role in family planning programs, whether in China or anywhere else. As a member of UNFPA’s Executive Board of Directors, the United States could work with UNFPA on these areas of agreement, again on the principle that active engagement is more effective in influencing policy than detachment. This approach surely resonates with you from your time in the foundation community.

We appeal to you, Madame Secretary, to do what you surely know is the right thing by the world’s women. It is within your power to ensure that the United States resumes its funding for UNFPA, making this fiscal year a benchmark for U.S. policy. We urge you reconsider your decision.

Sincerely,

Americans for UNFPA

Catholics for a Free Choice

Center for Health and Gender Equity

Center for Women Policy Studies

EngenderHealth

The Episcopal Church

Family Care International

Guttmacher Institute

International Planned Parenthood Federation

International Women's Health Coalition

National Council of Jewish Women

National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association

Planned Parenthood Federation of America

Population Action International

Population Connection

Population Institute

Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS)

Sierra Club

Women’s Edge Coalition

Women's Environment and Development Organization