Bush poised to cut U.N. family planning funds

But team found program didn't back forced abortion

July 15, 2002|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - President Bush is poised to reject the advice of his fact-finding team and cut off millions of dollars to a United Nations family planning program that abortion opponents contend supports forced abortions in China.

An independent team that the administration sent to China in May concluded that the allegations are untrue and recommended that Bush release $34 million to the U.N. Population Fund, said two officials familiar with the issue.

The three-member team, which spent two weeks traveling throughout China, wrote in a report to the State Department that the U.N. program did not knowingly support coercive abortions, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

One of the officials said the report concluded that the U.N. program improved women's lives by helping them prevent unwanted pregnancies through education and birth control and, therefore, reducing the number of abortions under China's restrictive family planning policy.

The administration has refused to release the report, even to congressional Republicans working on the issue. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Friday that a final decision had not been made and that the State Department would announce soon what Bush's policy would be.

But the two officials and others said the White House will instruct State Department employees to cut the funding, which Congress - and Bush - approved earlier this year.

State Department officials accepted the fact-finders' conclusion that the U.N. program did not support coerced abortions, but, one senior administration official said, "the White House has decided to interpret it differently."

Officials of the U.N. program, which does not perform abortions, strongly denied allegations that they support coercion in China's enforcement of birth limits. They said the goal of their program was to reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

The administration's decision on funding for the U.N. program threatens to set off a firestorm in Congress, where Democrats and Republicans have criticized the president's failure to release money that they appropriated.

By eliminating money to the international family planning program, Bush, who opposes abortion rights, would be throwing a bone to his conservative political base. But he also would risk angering women, particularly moderates, whom the administration has been trying to woo.

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