State Department Withdraws Funding for AIDS Program, Alleging Group Involved Supports Forced Abortion in China
The State Department has announced that it is discontinuing funding for an HIV/AIDS program for African and Asian refugees because of concerns that one of the seven groups that runs the program supports forced abortions and involuntary sterilization in China, the New York Times reports. Although State Department officials said they have no evidence that Marie Stopes International, which provides family planning counseling and abortion services, is involved in forced abortions and sterilizations, they expressed concern that the group works as a partner in China with the United Nations Population Fund (Swarns, New York Times, 8/27). The Bush administration in July 2002 decided to permanently withhold UNFPA funding -- withdrawing $34 million in financing for that year -- stating that the organization "tacitly perpetuates a 'one-child' policy in China that has led to abortions and sterilizations against women's will." Although a State Department fact-finding team in May 2002 found that there was no evidence that UNFPA funds were being used for coercive practices in China, the administration rejected the report's findings, stating that China "coerces women to have abortions by charging them a prohibitive 'social compensation fee' for having children without permission" (Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 7/17). State Department officials said that Marie Stopes' work with the UNFPA and Chinese officials "is what touched off the similar concerns," according to the Times. An unnamed State Department official said that although the group's program in China aims to reduce the country's number of abortions, "the fact that they're tied in with the [Chinese] government management program is what triggered the concern. This wasn't an ideological decision; it was a legal decision."
However, the State Department decision has "raised a furor" among AIDS and refugee groups, who say that they are concerned that the State Department is "bowing to pressure from antiabortion factions" within the Bush administration and "allowing politics to interfere" with important AIDS programs, according to the Times. The State Department denies the allegations. The State Department official said that the HIV/AIDS program, which is run by a consortium of seven groups known as the Reproductive Health for Refugees Consortium -- which includes Marie Stopes, the International Rescue Committee, CARE, the American Refugee Committee, the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, John Snow International and Columbia University's Department of Population and Family Health -- does "good work" and is "very useful." The program provides AIDS counseling and supports health care services for thousands of individuals in several countries, including Angola, Congo, Rwanda and Eritrea. Following the withdrawal of the group's funding, the State Department gave the program $1 million to pay for its first year and said that it would continue to fund the six other groups involved in the project if they agreed to end their partnership with Marie Stopes, the Times reports. The consortium refused the State Department offer, saying that they would not end ties with the group over "baseless allegations." A State Department official said, "We were disappointed that for reasons of solidarity with Marie Stopes that they should refuse our money. We had hoped they would show more humanitarian statesmanship than that" (New York Times, 8/27).