Abortion Again a Factor in Aid

Committee this week to review House, Senate plans on linking foreign aid to family planning.

To United Nations officials, Congressman Christopher Smith is someone who could inadvertently prompt millions more abortions in third-world nations.

That charge is offensive to the pro-life New Jersey Republican.

Earlier this month he successfully led the fight to pass an amendment to a $12.3-billion foreign-aid bill that blocks aid to any family-planning organization that performs, supports, or promotes abortions abroad. It also cuts off $25 million for the UN's Population Fund (UNFPA) if that agency operates in China, a nation with a one-child policy reportedly involving forced abortions and sterilizations.

"We should have no part of that," says Mr. Smith's spokesman, Ken Wolfe. "Not $1."

Blocked by a Supreme Court decision from banning abortion at home, abortion-rights opponents have taken their battle back into the area of foreign aid.

But to the UNFPA, charged with helping third-world nations make reproductive health care and information accessible, a cutoff of US funds would limit its family-planning activities.

And, says UNFPA spokesman Stirling Scruggs in New York, "Family planning prevents abortions more than anything else."

On July 17, the Senate passed a $13.2-billion foreign-aid bill which, though banning the direct financing of abortion, has less restrictive language than the House bill.

A conference committee to iron out differences between the House and Senate bills is planned for later this week. The task won't be easy.

"The House and Senate have fundamentally different agendas," says David Gordon, a senior fellow at the Overseas Development Council, a Washington think tank. "Their constituencies will be hard put to compromise on this."

President Clinton has promised a veto if the bill includes the tough Smith language on abortion.

The $25 million from the US would make it the sixth-largest donor, after Germany, Japan, and some Scandinavian nations, and cover 1/13th of UNFPA's budget. Since 1973, US law has banned the use of foreign aid to fund abortion.

Between 1986 and 1992, Presidents Reagan and Bush enforced a resulting policy banning US aid to groups that, they said, were managing or comanaging organizations that pay for abortions or provide information on abortions.

This cut off two major family-planning agencies, the International Planned Parenthood Federation in London and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in New York. Some 400 other family-planning groups agreed to have nothing to do with abortion.

The day after he took office, President Clinton reversed the Reagan-Bush decision, opening the way for the two agencies to win a portion of the $385 million a year of bilateral US aid for family planning programs in more than 60 nations.

Mr. Smith's amendment aims at preventing the president from making such a determination. No taxpayer money will go to any organization that performs or promotes abortion or lobbies to change laws that limit it, notes Mr. Wolfe.

Opponents call this a gag rule. "We shouldn't be telling private organizations what they should be doing with their money," says Tom Rieser, an aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont. Administration officials also suspect that if the Smith amendment prevails, it will be challenged in court as a violation of First Amendment rights.

In last year's funding battle, Smith and his allies in the House succeeded in meting out funds to the UNFPA over some 15 months.

This year, the anti-abortion-rights forces have going for them an authorization bill that would pay some of the arrears the US owes the United Nations and reorganize the State Department and the foreign-aid agencies. Smith is chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee responsible for that bill, which gives him some clout.

Further, Smith's aid-blocking amendment was approved, 234 to 191, after a compromise version backed by many abortion-rights lawmakers was narrowly defeated.

Mr. Gordon calls the Smith provisions for the UNFPA "ridiculous." The UN agency, he says, has been "a source of moderation in China" since it urged leaders to back off coercive policies.

A UN conference in Cairo in 1994 set a goal of increasing government spending on population programs to $17 billion a year by 2000. So far, says Mr. Scruggs, less-developed countries are "pretty well living up to their end of the bargain" of providing two-thirds of that money. Aid from Germany, Japan, and the US lags. Donor countries provided $2 billion in 1995, only a third of the amount needed to meet the Cairo goal.

UNFPA paints a dismal picture of the consequences for the 1995-2000 period, including 130 million unintended pregnancies, 51 million more abortions, and 59 million more unintended births.

These numbers raise some eyebrows. "Junk science," says Nicholas Eberstadt, a demographer at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington. It is not known, he says, whether third-world governments will make up the funding gap - or whether couples will limit reproduction regardless of a lack of free services.

But Scruggs of the UNFPA says that whether the UNFPA numbers are precise or not, adequate funding would give more couples a choice in deciding on family size.

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