The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof joins women’s rights organizations throughout the United States in urging President Bush to release $34 million appropriated to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) by Congress. In an Op/Ed last week, Kristof noted that he wished Bush could “visit the women whose lives are thus devastated” by the U.S. refusal to release the funds, which total 13 percent of the UNFPA budget. Bush placed a hold on the funds after Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, alleged that UNFPA supported forced abortions and sterilization in China. UNFPA has denied the allegations and has invited the Bush Administration to send a fact-finding team to China to investigate the charges. So far, no team has been assembled. In his article, Kristof highlighted the fact that “the population fund does not support abortion services.” He continued, “On the contrary, the cutoff of $34 million could result in an additional 800,000 abortions per year because of less contraception available. The reality is that the population fund is active not only in providing contraception but also in waging a lonely struggle to oppose female genital mutilation, the spread of AIDS and the scourge of mothers dying in childbirth.”
Already, UNFPA has been forced to cut new programs and staff because of under-funding this year, and thousands of women and teenage girls will go without critically needed family planning services – girls like Aisha Idris. Krisof introduces us to Idris, a Sudanese girl, who at 14 gave birth, without the aid of a midwife, after receiving no prenatal care. Idris suffered from fistula, which Kristof explains as the “tearing of her rectum, urethra and vagina, leaving her incontinent and causing bodily wastes to seep through her vaginal canal and down her legs.” Hundreds of thousands of women suffer from fistula in the developing world, but according to Dr. Abdullah Kannan, a Sudanese gynecologist, the problem is “100 percent preventable” and has “disappeared completely from Western countries.” UNFPA supports programs that prevent complications like fistula along with programs that help prevent unwanted pregnancies and unnecessary maternal, infant, and child deaths.