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Letters & Op-Eds - 2004

miami herald

Agency Deserves US Money and Health

Nazir Khaja, Nancy Kipnis and Frances Kissling

30 January 2004

We -- a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian -- sometimes see things differently, but not when it comes to saving women's lives and expanding their rights and choices. As Americans, we have new evidence from China that could help the United States do just that.

We hope that President Bush will consider the fresh facts that we and six other religious leaders and ethicists have presented about the work of the United Nations in China. If so, he would approve $34 million to support its work to ensure reproductive health for women and men worldwide. The decision is his alone.

Congress has just approved these funds for the United Nations Population Fund, included in the Foreign Operations Bill for 2004. All Bush has to do is sign off on it. This year -- unlike last year, when he could withhold funds for UNFPA without making any public statement -- Bush must inform America of his decision. To deny U.S. funding yet again, Bush must declare that he believes that UNFPA supports coercion in family planning in China. The basis of his decision should depend on solid evidence, not political expediency.

We can prove that all the programs in China with which UNFPA is currently working are committed to avoiding any practice of forced abortions or involuntary sterilizations. We were part of a group of nine religious leaders and ethicists representing Muslim, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant faiths, who went to China in September 2003.

We visited six counties and conducted extensive interviews with national and local family-planning officials. We talked with hundreds of Chinese women and men in towns and villages. The report of our findings explains that UNFPA is, in fact, a catalyst for change and promotes voluntary, high-quality reproductive healthcare in China. The administration has our report, as does every member of Congress.

It reinforces previous fact-finding missions from the British government and the State Department that found no evidence to substantiate a claim by the Population Research Institute that UNFPA supports coercion in China.

There is no coercion

Will our new evidence make a difference to the Bush administration? Will Bush give us as much attention as he does his political advisors who tell him that American voters do not care about poor women dying in Asia, Africa and Latin America? For these political advisors, it is more important to score points with his right-wing base than to support voluntary family planning worldwide?

The nine of us are not alone in believing that UNFPA is a force for good in China as well as in the 150 other countries where it works. More than 170 diverse religious leaders, both American and international, have sent a letter to Bush urging him to fully fund UNFPA. Another 120 U.S. Catholic leaders sent a similar letter, as did a group of Methodist women bishops.

We are firm in our faith in the facts: UNFPA does not support coercion and has been, and remains, a major force and a vital catalyst in achieving China's transition to a fully voluntary, noncoercive family-planning program.

We trust that Bush has the capacity to be fair and take our experiences in China into consideration. He has the facts. Now he must act. U.S. funding for UNFPA should be restored.

Nazir Khaja, MD, is president of Islamic Information Services in Los Angeles.

Nancy Kipnis, JD, is national vice president of the National Council of Jewish Women in Miami.

Frances Kissling is president of Catholics for a Free Choice in Washington, D.C.