Population growth: A critical North-South issue? Debate over abortion delays US funding for UN population programs
In the teeming, tightly-packed streets of Asian cities, in the dusty villages of India, in the slums of Nigeria's capital, in the humid huts of Java, and in the shantytowns of Latin America, the issue is clear: Too many people are pouring into the already overcrowded third world. Slums, schoolrooms, buses, hospitals, and mud huts are overflowing.
The answer: more voluntary family planning, more data on contraception, more status and jobs for women -- and more money from rich countries of the North to help the poorer ones of the South.
A total of 127 countries, accounting for 94 percent of the world's population, now support family-planning programs. In the last 10 years more than 50 developing countries have adopted new laws or policies to slow population growth, according to a recent study by Columbia University in New York.
UN figures (not precise, but not inflated) show world population still leaps by 150 people a minute, 80 million a year. By the year 2000, just 15 years from now, the third world could contain as many people (4.5 billion) as the whole world does today. By 2025, the third world's population may be 7 billion and the whole world's 8.1 billion -- staggering figures.
The World Bank advocates voluntary family planning as an essential part of third-world economic development.
Yet there is one country in whose capital city this view of the population issue is challenged. That country happens to be the world's richest, and the biggest single provider of funds for family-planning programs around the world: the United States.
A new dispute broke out in Washington in January. The pro-family-planning lobby backs US support for family planning. Opposing it is a well-organized right-to-life, antiabortion lobby. This lobby has friends in the White House -- it claims President Reagan himself as an ally -- and vows to fight for as long as it takes to prevent any US taxpayer dollars going to any government, private group, or UN agency that in its view condones or supports abortion or any related activity.
Basing their arguments largely on fundamentalist and Roman Catholic moral teachings, the movement's leaders assert that the US ``has no right'' to tell other countries how many children parents should have. The US, the movement says, would do better to teach the third world how to feed and clothe its growing populations. Some deny a population crisis
Behind this view is a belief, enunciated by scholars such as Prof. Julian L. Simon of the University of Maryland, that there is no population crisis in the world -- that the ``ultimate resource'' is people, and that the human spirit will come up with solutions in good time.
At stake is the thrust of US family-assistance policies in general, and their total budget of $290 million this fiscal year. The immediate issue is $23 million, the first half of the US government's fiscal 1985 contribution to the $150 million annual budget of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA).
In early January, a letter releasing the money to the UNFPA was drafted and sent to M. Peter McPherson, director of the US Agency for International Development (AID), for signature. But two events caused him to delay signature pending a ``careful review'' of some UN activities.
The first was a week-long series of demonstrations, culminating in a meeting of right-to-life leaders with Mr. Reagan, on the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision making abortion legal in the US. The second was a series of three articles (Jan. 6, 7, and 8) in the Washington Post by former Peking correspondent Michael Weisskopf alleging Chinese policies ``rooted in widespread coercion, wanton abortion, and intrusion by the state into the most intimate of human affairs.''
Since 1979, official Chinese policy has been to limit new families to one child, although there are a number of exceptions. The Chinese government admits to local abuses but strongly denies centrally-directed coercion, sterilization, or approval of female infanticide. No US funds go directly to China
The US gives no family-planning funds directly to China (population over 1 billion) but provides 30 percent of the budget of UNFPA, which gives Peking $10 million a year.
UNFPA chief Raphael M. Salas and the Chinese government say none of the UN contribution goes to abortion-related activities; the right-to-life lobby told Mr. Reagan in the White House in January that it does.
Did the President agree? Judie Brown, president of the Virginia-based American Life Lobby, which claims 200,000 members, was among those who spoke to Reagan. She told the Monitor, ``He just smiled -- as he always does.''
Also to be fought over now: (1) the second half of the US contribution to the UNFPA (another $23 million), (2) US support for the agency from now on, and (3) the future size and disposition of the US AID budget for family planning around the world.
Mr. McPherson has decided to send a US team to China to investigate the Washington Post's allegations. The pro-family-planning lobby hopes that in two or three months, McPherson will release the UN funds. Mrs. Brown, on the other hand, said that she thought the Post articles had been ``excellent,'' that UNFPA was ``notorious'' for promoting abortion worldwide, and that the right-to-life groups would keep up their pressure until all US government aid to UNFPA was stopped.
In an interview, Mr. Salas, who has been executive director of UNFPA for 15 years, said that, looking beyond the battle in Washington, he has seen considerable progress made toward family planning around the globe since the second World Population Conference, which was held in Mexico City last August.
``I'm more encouraged than ever by the responses to Mexico City,'' he said. ``I've been to see a group of Asian parliamentarians in Tokyo, and to see planning ministers in Asia. We are reviewing programs within the UN system.
``Since Mexico, I find increased interest in population issues -- growth, reducing infant mortality and illnesses among mothers, and in taking steps to alleviate the effects of urbanization.''
The growth of supercities from Mexico City to Shanghai to Lagos, Nigeria, as populations mushroom received much attention in Mexico City. The UNFPA has called a meeting for later this year, again in Mexico City, for officials from Latin American cities that are expected to reach 1 million by the year 2000. The UN agency is also sponsoring a meeting in Barcelona for officials from cities that are likely to have 4 million by the end of this century.
Improving the status of women -- finding ways to provide them with education and jobs -- is advocated by most supporters of family planning. To reinforce the UN conference on women in Nairobi this summer, the UNFPA is inviting Asian women leaders to Peking. Recognizing the work of nongovernment groups, it is gathering their representatives in New York in March and in Geneva in April.
Other trends emerged at the Mexico City conference and since then. Salas is cautious about them, since they involve sensitive aspects of policy for member-governments of UNFPA.
The sensitive aspects include:
The Reagan administration's policy, announced by the US delegation at Mexico City and followed ever since, that the third world can best solve overcrowding and shortages not by family planning but by stimulating economic growth through free-market economic policies.
This view holds that third-world governments have mismanaged their economies by failing to give high enough incentives to farmers to grow food, and by stifling individual enterprise with red tape.
New Reagan administration budget policies. Since 1974, Congress has forbidden the US to give any family-planning aid to other governments for any activities related to abortion. A White House policy announced at the Mexico City conference removes US funds from any private group whose activities in any way relate to abortion or associated activities such as counseling or referrals.
This new fiscal policy has eliminated $17 million this year -- the entire US contribution -- from the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), a London-based organization that represents family-planning associations in 120 countries.
The lost $17 million represents almost one-third of the federation's total budget this year of $56 million. Thirty-seven jobs have been cut from IPPF headquarters, and field offices in Nepal, Senegal, and Jordan have been closed. One that was planned for the Congo won't open.
The Agency for International Development cut the US contribution because IPPF spends $200,000 each year in countries where abortion is legal on counseling, referral, and other services connected to abortion. One of these countries is India. Told by US officials that it could have the $17 million if it would eliminate the $200,000 worth of programs, IPPF refused, saying local member associations were free to make their own decisions.
``There's no other private group nearly as widespread as we are,'' said IPPF's Frances Dennis. ``These cuts mean we can't do what we'd like to in India, for instance, where the urgent need now is to get information to younger mothers to space their children and to have two instead of four. . . .''
What bothers pro-family-planning groups such as the Population Crisis Committee and the Population Institute in Washington, D.C., is that right-to-life groups appear to want UNFPA treated the same way as IPPF: That is, they want to deprive it of US assistance.
``We are moving forward quite fast everywhere in the world except in the US,'' Sharon Camp, vice-president of Population Crisis Committee, said in an interview. ``But real damage could be done if we don't get [US financing] straightened out this year.''
As Population Institute president Werner Fornos sees it, the danger is that an increasingly conservative White House staff might decide to ``throw another bone'' to the right-to-life groups by cutting UNFPA off from US dollars just as it did the IPPF.
He is worried by the appointment of conservative columnist Patrick Buchanan as White House communications chief. Mr. Buchanan has opposed US family-planning policies in the past. Edwin Meese's move from presidential adviser to attorney general removes a White House friend of AID chief McPherson and makes McPherson more vulnerable to pressure from right-to-life groups, Mr. Fornos says.
On the other hand, Judie Brown of the American Life Lobby said, ``AID is right to take a serious look at UNFPA. Why should UNFPA give money to any Chinese programs when abortion is the policy of the Chinese government?
``It's impossible for the UNFPA to prove that it doesn't support abortion. If the US does give the UNFPA the $23 million, we'll gather more documentation about abortion abuses at a right-to-life meeting July 18-21 in Kenya, and we'll forward it to the US government.''
Could UNFPA satisfy right-to-life groups by a separate accounting system designed to show that no US contributions go to abortion-related activities?
``Of course, UNFPA will say that the US money is separate,'' Mrs. Brown replied. ``But it supports abortions, and this offends the religious principles of third-world countries.''
Of Buchanan's appointment to the White House, Brown said, ``I'm thrilled. He's never written anything that can't be documented.
``Look, our position to other countries on US aid is this: Take it or leave it. If you want our aid, stop promoting abortion. . . .''
UNFPA officials produce copies of their agreements with China to show that the $50 million they provided between 1981 and 1985, and the $50 million more to go to China in the next five years, is solely for demographic training and research, mother and child health care, family-planning publicity programs, the manufacture of contraceptives, and census work.
``Not one cent of UN funds to China supports abortion,'' Salas says. ``UNFPA's governing council of 48 countries has approved all our policies, item by item. The US government is on that council and has raised no objections. . . .
``It is up to China to decide its own policies. That is China's sovereign right. The US has always been a good friend to UNFPA, and is now conducting an internal debate of its own. Meanwhile, we at UNFPA continue our work.'' 1. Revolutionary Cuba
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