Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Pro-lifers, Hillary, and UNFPA

I knew this would happen fast, but it actually happened the day before her name was officially offered as Barack Obama's Secretary of State. Hillary Clinton has officially incurred the wrath of the pro-life movement.

The Pro-life Movement Targets Hillary and UNFPA
By Christina Page

One woman is a victim of daily defamation from the right: Susan B. Anthony. The name and image of the iconic suffragist have been used to promote the anti-woman, anti-choice campaigns of a group that calls itself the "Susan B. Anthony List." Clearly, they hope that co-opting the name of the famous woman's rights leader will camouflage their anti-woman agenda. It should then come as no surprise that the same group is now maligning and defaming (though not yet co-opting) the name of another woman's rights leader, Hillary Clinton.

The "Susan B. Anthony List" claims Clinton, as Obama's Secretary of State, will "promote abortion" around the world. According to their November 30 press release, "Clinton will join Obama in promoting taxpayer funding of international abortions through a revocation of the Mexico City Policy and restoring funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The UNFPA has been implicated in supporting China's coercive one-child family planning policy that involves forced abortions and sterilizations."

Defamation is a tool of the anti-choice establishment. Its campaign against UNFPA was one of its most sinister. It was, in effect, a campaign against the most desperate women, babies and families of the world. Anti-contraception groups, like the "Susan B. Anthony List," with the help of the all-too-willing President Bush managed to freeze $161 million of U.S. funds to UNFPA. This "pro-life" victory resulted in millions of infant deaths, over a hundred thousand mothers dying during childbirth, as well as millions more unintended pregnancies and abortions worldwide. With an Obama presidency, sadly for "pro-life" groups, this trend will end. But the pro-lie movement against UNFPA will continue. (How in the world is the pro-life? How does it support the dignity of humanity and women and children in particular?)

Hillary has been a big supporter of UNFPA, and for good reason. The UN is, despite press reports to the contrary, primarily a relief agency. It provides assistance to those living in the most dangerous and unstable places on earth. The role of UNFPA, one of its agencies, is to provide lifesaving interventions in the reproductive field: delivering babies, creating healthy births, ensuring that women are well enough to become mothers again, and giving families the methods to space children. (These, by the way, are goals that Susan B. Anthony certainly would have endorsed.)

UNFPA does not provide abortion. In fact, the organization states explicitly, "UNFPA...does not provide support for abortion services." Instead, UNFPA is the supplier of 41 percent of the world's total needed contraceptive (or prevention) services. It does this all on a meager budget, $500 million, provided by nations that believe in its mission. UNFPA is by many standards a model of what the UN does well. It has a tremendous impact on the people in greatest need, and it does so on a shoestring. As economist Jeffrey Sachs, author of The End of Poverty and, according to Time magazine, one of the world's one hundred most influential people, explained, "UNFPA's work is absolutely vital." (Here we are again. Oral contraceptives are defined as abortifacients and that's why pro lifers can castigate this UN agency for actively promoting abortion. Semantics being semantics and all.)

Sadly, the organization's good work providing people in poor countries the ability to plan a pregnancy put it on a collision course with the U.S. anti-family planning movement. While domestically, our anti-sex fundamentalists tend to act covertly to roll back access to birth control, they act brazenly abroad. In Kosovo they characterized UNFPA's efforts to provide emergency contraception to female refugees who had been raped and wanted to prevent pregnancy as "ethnic cleansing " and "genocide." They followed UNFPA workers into Iraq to suggest the emergency obstetric care clinics it was constructing and staffing was instead the headquarters for an "abortion jihad."

This heckling of humanitarian relief efforts is coordinated by a group based in Front Royal, Virginia, the Population Research Institute (PRI). When Bush took office, PRI saw its opportunity. The staff of six was imaginative. In 2002, they amplified their slander campaign against UNFPA claiming it was working with the Chinese government to enforce its coercive one-child policy.

The truth was the very opposite. UNFPA was working with the Chinese government to prove that voluntary family planning would lead to better outcomes for Chinese citizens as well as the Chinese government. In fact, UNFPA was having lots of success persuading the Chinese to relax their coercive and brutal one-child policy, the goal of their work there. It had even documented a dramatic decline in abortion rates in the Chinese counties it focused, from 24 percent to 10 percent. (To put this in context, the current abortion rate in the U.S. is 21 percent.) Just when UNFPA was succeeding in proving to the Chinese the one-child policy was not only inhumane but also ineffective, PRI swooped in with its claims of complicity. Bush, eager to lock lips with his fanatical base, ignored the advice of his own state department, as well as many allied nations, and opted to go with the swirly eyed lunacy of the six staffers of PRI. At their request, Bush quickly froze all U.S. funds to UNFPA, which represented 12 percent of its budget. (But to ardent Pro-lifers, pregnancy prevention by means of some oral contraceptives is considered a form of abortion and so these statistics in context of that argument are meaningless. This is more collateral damage from Humanae Vitae. PRI is the brainchild of a Roman Catholic priest.)

Since the accusations were made, over 145 diplomats have looked into the spurious claims made by PRI. Not one investigator has been able to validate PRI's accusations against UNFPA.
Nonetheless, UNFPA has not received U.S. funding since 2002, amounting to a loss of $161 million dollars. Many countries have appealed to the U.S. to restore funding to UNFPA, including UN ambassadors from more than 50 countries who explained that "The least developed countries, 34 of which are in Africa, receive the bulk of UNFPA funding and will be most affected." Thanks to our "pro-life" movement, the US holds the ignoble distinction of being the only country to ever withhold funds to UNFPA for political reasons. (Except we're supposed to believe Bush did this for religious reasons, not political.)

The effects of U.S. policy are tangible. Johns Hopkins researchers have estimated the magnitude. According to the researchers, the loss of funding to UNFPA has resulted in 1.9 million infant deaths, 135,000 maternal deaths, 60 million unintended pregnancies, 25 million abortions. Anita Rahman, president of Americans for UNFPA, an organization formed to educate the American public about the impact this U.S. religious fundamentalist plot has had on women, babies and families worldwide, once said, "We dream of the day when the United States government will once again contribute financially to UNFPA and be part of the international community's work to promote the health and dignity of women everywhere." With Obama and Clinton guiding foreign policy, that dream will come true. Meanwhile, the "pro-life" movement plots another nightmare.


It is very difficult to argue with people who think almost everything having to do with pregnancy prevention is a form of abortion.

It is very difficult to argue with people who think birth control is an intrinsic evil even so far as to the use of condoms in AIDS prevention---- and even make up lies about their effectiveness.

It is very difficult to argue with people who think any kind of quality of life is a distant second to the notion of birth.

You can't argue with people whose idea of morality is based in the notion that all sex is profane unless it produces a baby--even if they camouflage this attitude by calling it pro-life.

You can't argue with people who believe it doesn't matter if a woman's consent is needed for pregnancy. (rape and incest pregnancies are after all pregnancies)

You can't argue with people (especially celibate priests) who don't think it matters if there is any conceivable ability to raise a child, or even any ability to guarantee a child's ability to survive. So I won't try. I'll let the numbers speak for themselves.

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