The Trump administration's reactivation of another international pro-life policy—this time by withholding funds for a controversial United Nations family planning agency linked to the support of China's coercive, population-control program—has drawn praise from pro-life advocates.
The State Department announced in an April 3 letter it would not forward congressionally approved money to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) because of its partnership with a Chinese government program that includes forced abortions and sterilizations. The action came 10 weeks after President Trump signed an executive order Jan. 23 to reinstate the Mexico City Policy, which bans federal funds for organizations that perform or promote abortions overseas. In both cases, Trump reversed the practices of President Obama.
"That foreign assistance funds should be used to foster life, not to fund brutality, should be self-evident," said Travis Wussow, general counsel and vice president for public policy of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
"I am thankful that President Trump's decision will ensure that federal funds will not be used to advance China's oppressive abortion and population-control policies," Wussow said in written comments for Baptist Press. "This is a common-sense policy, and I hope Congress will pass legislation to make this move permanent."
Congress' leading pro-life champion—Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.—said the UNFPA "gave China's brutally enforced population control policies the international stamp of approval." The agency "not only turned a blind eye to abuses, but helped facilitate and fund them," he said in a written release.
Jennifer Popik, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), said in a written statement, "Over his eight years in office, President Obama advanced a pro-abortion agenda with executive orders and regulations that were dangerous to the lives of many unborn children. This latest action by the Trump Administration helps keep the U.S. out of the business of international abortion advocacy."
The Obama administration gave nearly $68 million to the UNFPA in the latest financial year, according to the NRLC.
The State Department based withholding funds for the UNFPA on the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, a 1985 measure that prohibits family planning money from going to any entity that, as decided by the president, "supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization."
Though China revised its "one-child policy" to a "two-child policy" as of January 2016, the central and provincial governments in the world's most populous country continue to penalize those who exceed the limit, the State Department said in a two-page memorandum. Citing its 2016 human rights report, the department said in the memorandum the communist giant's policy still relies on "mandatory pregnancy examinations and coercive abortions and sterilizations."
"While there is no evidence that UNFPA directly engages in coercive abortions or involuntary sterilizations in China, the agency continues to partner with [China's National Health and Family Planning Commission] on family planning, and thus can be found to support, or participate in the management of China's coercive policies for purposes of the Kemp-Kasten Amendment," according to the memorandum.
The UNFPA refuted the charge, saying in a written statement "all of its work promotes the human rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination."
Abortion rights leaders decried the Trump administration decision. Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-choice America, described it as "yet another example of a politician putting his dangerous agenda ahead of the freedom and equality of women across the globe."
As a result of the Trump administration action, the money budgeted by Congress for the UNFPA this year—$32.5 million, according to news reports—will be available for "other family planning, maternal and reproductive health activities," according to the State Department memorandum.
Ever since Kemp-Kasten was enacted, Republican and Democratic administrations have applied it differently. Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush denied funds for UNFPA, but President Clinton restored them. President George W. Bush declined to send money to UNFPA after his first year in office, withholding nearly $235 million from the agency his last seven years in the White House. Obama reversed his predecessor in 2009, providing money for UNFPA all eight years of his administration.
The Mexico City Policy—first implemented by Reagan at a 1984 conference in Mexico City—prohibits international family planning organizations from receiving federal funds unless they agree not to perform or counsel for abortions or lobby in order to liberalize the pro-life policies of foreign governments.
Like Kemp-Kasten, the rule has been on a political seesaw for more than three decades. After Reagan's action, it remained in force until 1993, when Clinton rescinded it. George W. Bush reinstated it eight years later, only to see it overturned by Obama.
The Kemp-Kasten Amendment is named after former Republican congressmen Jack Kemp of New York and Robert Kasten of Wisconsin, the measure's sponsors. Kemp died in 2009.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.