People vs resources
At the world's biggest population conference for a decade, attended by about 140 countries, the Reagan administration finds itself the odd man out - isolated from the third world.Skip to next paragraph
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The result is the biggest single controversy of the conference (Aug. 6-13), and it is filling corridors and meeting rooms with puzzlement and concern.
The heart of the issue is a 15-page White House policy document issued last month.
The document, written to guide the US delegation here, breaks with traditional US policy in several ways.
Its thrust is that overcrowding and resource shortages are best overcome less by family planning and more by free-market economic policies. Pointedly, it blames third world governments for mismanaging their economies.
It also states a new US policy on restricting funds for family planning.
Since 1974, US law has forbidden government-to-government aid for any programs that include abortion or abortion-related activities. The new policy goes further by cutting off US aid to private groups which support programs abroad that are in any way related to abortion.
The document has left third world nations puzzled because the US is still committed by the US Foreign Assistance Act to support voluntary family planning. The US has given more funds for family planning aid in general than any other world donor.
The policy statement also conflicts with the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. An Appropriations subcommittee has just voted to increase family planning aid funds for 1985 by $50 million to $290 million.
Critics of the Reagan administration say the new line is a political ploy in a presidential election year, aimed at appeasing the far-right wing on the eve of the GOP convention in Dallas.
The document does not rule out family planning entirely over the short term, but reiterates that ''attempts to use abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive measures in family planning ... be shunned.''
Third world delegates are asking who speaks for the United States:
* James Buckley, the White House-appointed US delegation chief and former Republican Senator from New York, who is perceived here as part of a lobby close to Mr. Reagan that is anti-abortion, anti-family planning, and largely Roman Catholic?
* Or Democrats in Congress, plus the State Department and the Agency for International Development (AID), who support existing policy?
Third world delegates are also faced by a concerted campaign here by private US lobby groups to oppose the position of the US delegation.
In an interview, Werner Fornos, president of the Population Institute in Washington DC, said he was spreading the word that the White House policy ''is rhetoric which conflicts with US law, and which Congress will not carry out.''
And, on Aug. 3, the Rockefeller Foundation released here a Gallup Poll it commissioned. Of 1042 Americans polled between July 9-15 this year, 82.9 per cent said economic growth was hurt by high rates of population growth.
Opinion was more divided on specific aid for family planning. Almost 57 percent favored US aid to ''reduce population growth,'' 32 percent disapproved and the remainder did not answer or did not know.