Playing Games With UNFPA Funds

Senate Democrats fight for global women's health today by urging Bush to restore the long withheld funding for crucial family planning funds around the world.

Read Anika Rahman's analysis of global women's health and rights issues weekly only on Rewire! 

In an attempt by Senate Democrats to prove that they're not messing around, the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill is suddenly and surprisingly on the docket this week. This bill, exceeding $20 billion in expenditure, is where UNFPA funding is allocated. For the last six years, the House version has included a contribution of $34 million for UNFPA and included the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which allows the President to withhold funds to "any organization or program, which, as determined by the President of the United States, supports or participates in the management of a program of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization."

This amendment serves as the loophole for withholding funds from UNFPA since 2002.

Although the President's own State Department investigative teams found, in a report dated May 2002, that UNFPA was not involved in coercive activities and recommended that the Administration support UNFPA.

In last year's budget wrangling, President Bush threatened to veto the entire $21.3 billion Foreign Operations bill if the Kemp-Kasten Amendment language was not included.

But there's a new sheriff on the Hill this year. The House FY08 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill allocated a contribution of $40 million – an increase from the previous years' $34 million – to UNFPA. It also requires the Administration to provide a full accounting of the reasons for withholding funding from UNFPA within six months of the bill's passage.

In a June Statement of Administrative Policy (code for veto threat) the President is "concerned that [the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill) contains provisions that create burdensome reporting requirements with regard to Executive decisions…"

I'm not making this up.

The Senate bill – scheduled to be on the floor today, Thursday 9/06 – changes the Kemp-Kasten Amendment to allow the President to withhold funds if the organization DIRECTLY supports coercive abortion practices and sterilization. We are confident that the Administration would fail to validate this charge against UNFPA.

It's pretty much a given in DC that the President will veto the Foreign Operations bill (totaling more than $20 billion) over a $40 million contribution to UNFPA and language that would effectively neutralize the Global Gag Rule.

If the President vetoes the Foreign Operations bill, will the new Congress take him on?

The looming veto this week allows for a national discussion about our national character and values. Are we the kind of country who uses the issue of global women's health for political expediency? Or are we a generous and noble country who promotes democracy and equality?

It's even possibly that our national discussion will spill over to our Presidential candidates. "Senator/Governor, if elected, would you restore funding to UNFPA to assist in global efforts to promote women and reduce poverty?"

Dare to dream.