Autor: Harry Dunphy Fuente: Wire.ap.org

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration, in a victory for social conservatives who oppose abortion, will withhold $34 million that had been earmarked for U.N. family planning programs overseas. Instead, the money will go to international child survival and health programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development, officials said Monday.

Critics of the decision said it was driven by politics and vowed to fight to ensure funding for the U.N. program. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was disappointed and China said it hoped the decision will be changed.

``Women and children will die because of this decision,'' said Thoraya Obaid, executive director of the U.N. fund. She questioned why the administration cut off aid to all countries, when in the past, the fund has simply promised not to spend the money in China. A State Department fact-finding team recommended the administration maintain the earlier arrangement.

But State spokesman Richard Boucher, in announcing the decision, said the administration considered the law and other factors and concluded ``that the U.N. Population Fund moneys go to Chinese agencies that carry out coercive programs'' that involve abortion.

The White House was involved in the decision and President Bush supported the action, he said.

White House officials privately said conservative activists have pressured the administration for months to prove Bush's anti-abortion credentials by permanently denying money to the U.N. fund, which helps countries with reproductive and sexual health, family planning and population strategy.

Conservatives helped Bush win the presidency and political advisers have tended to them. But the family planning decision could damage Bush's standing with moderates and women who weigh the issue of abortion rights heavily when they vote.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the State Department ``made a decision based on the law and the law is clear that we cannot use federal tax dollars to support or fund organizations abroad that support or fund coerced abortions.'' The Kemp-Kasten amendment was passed in 1985.

He dismissed allegations of political motivations.

Reading from the report of a U.S. government fact-finding team that traveled to China in May, McClellan said: ``The population programs of the People's Republic of China retain coercive elements in law and in practice.''

The same report found no evidence that the U.N. fund has ``knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization'' in China.

The team recommended that the administration release up to $34 million but that ``no U.S. government funds be allocated for population programs in the PRC.''

In testimony to the Senate last year, Secretary of State Colin Powell called the fund invaluable. In explaining Monday's decision to Senate appropriators, however, Powell said China imposes ``severe penalties on women who have unapproved births.''

``This regime plainly operates to coerce pregnant women to have abortions in order to avoid the penalties and therefore amounts to a `program of coercive abortion,''' he wrote.

The White House tried mightily to distance Bush from the matter, even though Kemp-Kasten specifies that such decisions be ``determined by the president of the United States.'' Before the announcement, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer sidestepped nearly a dozen questions about Bush's role in the decision, deflecting repeatedly to the State Department.

Rep. Nita M Lowey, D.-N.Y., called the decision ``an absolute outrage. Apparently no price is too high for this administration when it comes to political payoffs.'' As a member of the House Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee that oversees the program, she said, ``I will fight tooth and nail to ensure (the U.N. program) gets funding.''

Rep. Carolyn Mahoney, D-N.Y., attributed the move to ``the White House's mindless zeal to take care of their right-wing base.''

But House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, endorsed the administration's decision, saying: ``American tax dollars shouldn't fund a program that carries out the systematic destruction of human life by performing forced abortions and sterilizing women against their will.''

Lawmakers had raised the sum to $34 million after Bush proposed $25 million for the organization, slightly more than the previous year.

At the United Nations, Annan told CNN the population fund ``does very essential work and we have made it clear that it does not go around encouraging abortions. It gives good advice to women on reproductive health and does good work around the world, including in China.''

He said the United Nations would look for other donors to make up the difference.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Xie Feng told a news conference, ``We hope this decision will be changed.'' He said China uses encouragement, not coercion, to keep population rates down.
On the Net: Summary of State Department fact-finding team's report: http://www.house.gov/maloney/issues/UNFPA/unfpausreport.pdf
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