Defunding the International Abortion Lobby

Another federal election is only weeks away. Those who devote themselves to pro-life political work are once again rushing hither and yon, doing their best to help elect pro-life men and women to Congress. Once again, citizens are being asked to make abortion the determinant issue when they cast their votes.

Occasionally, some variant of this question is put to us: “We’ve had a pro-life President of the United States for six years, and we’ve worked hard to elect a good many pro-life senators and congressmen. Yet abortion on demand remains legal. Have past pro-life electoral efforts really made any difference?” The answer is: Yes.

To be sure, the primary pro-life legislative goal of restoring legal protection to unborn children remains unrealized. But when the Supreme Court reaffirmed its infamous abortion-on-demand doctrine last June, four of the nine justices dissented. The legal “right to abortion” is more shaky now than at any time since the Supreme Court fabricated that doctrine in 1973.

Even as I write (early September), the Senate is preparing to debate President Reagan’s two nominations to the Supreme Court. Although a formidable coalition of liberal advocacy organizations are opposing the nomination of William Rehnquist as chief justice, I expect that both he and Antonin Scalia will be confirmed before Congress adjourns in early October.

Note well, however, that the prospects for confirmation of these same two men would have been much slimmer if two powerful pro-life senators were not occupying strategically vital positions in the Republican-controlled Senate. Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond (R-SC) skillfully steered the nominees through his 18-member committee (ably assisted by Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah). And Sen. Robert Dole (R-KS) — who as Majority Leader largely determines the Senate’s agenda — will employ the full powers of his position to ensure that the nominations are not defeated through obstructionist tactics on the Senate floor.

Thirty-four Senate seats will be filled in the November 4 election. Most of them are currently occupied by pro-life Republicans, who are being challenged by pro-abortion Democrats. (In no state is a pro-abortion Republican senator being challenged by a pro-life Democrat this year.)

If Democrats win a Senate majority — which would require a net gain of only four seats — the balance of power on judicial confirmations will shift drastically. The Judiciary Committee — which has life-and-death power over all judicial nominations — would be chaired either by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) or Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) — both ardent supporters of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling. Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), another longtime supporter of legal abortion, would probably regain his old position as Majority leader.

In such a Senate, even an extraordinarily well-qualified nominee to the Supreme Court will face an uphill fight for confirmation — to say the least — if he will not pledge allegiance to Roe v. Wade.

Yes, effective pro-life political action matters a great deal.

As pro-life Americans reflect on the arduous political battles which still lie ahead, however, they should be aware of the pro-life policy victories which have been won in recent years. In this article, I will focus on the significant progress which has occurred in one specific area of federal policy: U.S. funding of overseas programs which promote abortion.

Since 1967, Congress annually has set aside specific amounts of foreign aid funds for “population assistance — that is, programs to curb population growth in developing countries. In 1967, $35 million was authorized for this purpose; for 1986, $239 million was appropriated.

U.S. population assistance programs, like most other forms of foreign aid, are administered by the Agency for International Development (AID), which is attached to the State Department.

The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), like other “single-issue” right-to-life groups, takes no position on contraception or on “family planning” programs per se. Unfortunately, however, abortion has long been a key element in AID-funded population assistance programs.

In a well-researched article titled “Foreign Aid for Abortions,” published in the Hastings Center Report (April 1980), Donald P. Warwick of the Harvard Institute for International Development observed that until 1973, AID “was an ardent supporter of abortion” as a method of population control.

However, in 1973 Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) sponsored a successful amendment to prohibit the use of foreign aid funds “to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortion.”

That amendment ended the use of foreign aid money to pay directly for surgical abortions or equipment used to perform abortions. However, AID continued to fund support for abortion training programs and for “research on both foresight and hindsight methods of fertility control” — the latter phrase being one of the more Orwellian of the many euphemisms which have been contrived to refer to the killing of unborn children.

In addition, AID continued to serve as the major donor to various private organizations which actively promote abortion in developing countries. The most important of these organizations was the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), headquartered in London. IPPF is a consortium of 123 national “family planning” associations, including the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA).

Although IPPF has a pro forma position that abortion “should not be promoted as a method of family planning,” IPPF operates on the policy that access to abortion is a right and that abortion should be legally accessible everywhere. “Whatever IPPF’s stated position on neutrality, it has in word and deed been one of the foremost lobbyists for abortion in the developing countries,” Warwick wrote in 1980.

IPPF’s pro-abortion stance runs contrary to the cultural and religious values which are embodied in the laws of most developing countries. In 1984 the United Nations reported that abortion was legal for “socio-economic reasons” in only eight out of 126 less-developed nations. (Abortion is illegal throughout Latin America, for example.)

Some IPPF affiliates have promoted abortion in direct violation of the laws of their respective countries. An IPPF committee actually urged affiliates to do so in a 1983 report presented to IPPF’s Member’s Assembly: “Family Planning Associations [IPPF affiliates] and other non-governmental organizations should not use the absence of law or the existence of an unfavorable law as an excuse for inaction; action outside the law, and even in violation of it, is part of the process of stimulating change.” (Planned Parenthood of America President Faye Wattleton was among the IPPF leaders who signed this report.)

In other countries, IPPF affiliates — supported by AID-supplied dollars channeled through IPPF headquarters in London — organized political campaigns to weaken or repeal anti-abortion laws.

Despite IPPF’s blatantly, pro-abortion activities, AID was the major contributor to IPPF through 1984, providing roughly one-quarter of the federation’s total annual budget. AID’s role in sustaining some smaller pro-abortion groups was even more appalling. For example, until 1983 The Pathfinder Fund received about 90 percent of its annual budget from AID. During the same period, the Pathfinder Fund published literature boasting of its effectiveness in establishing new abortion programs in developing countries. (“The offering of pregnancy termination services seemed an excellent way to introduce family planning” to the residents of Bangladesh, a Pathfinder letter noted.)

Ostensibly, Pathfinder was not in violation of the letter of the 1973 Helms Amendment because the abortions and abortion equipment were paid for with the funds the organization received from non-AID sources. In practical terms, however, Pathfinder was an AID surrogate — engaging in activities which AID was prohibited from funding directly.

Sadly, the flow of American tax dollars into the international abortion network continued essentially unabated during the first four years of the Reagan Administration. There were two major reasons for this.

First, pro-life lobbying organizations were largely preoccupied with congressional battles over legislation to curb abortion and funding of abortion in the United States. Attempts to win tighter pro-life restrictions on foreign aid programs had a lower priority, and most such efforts failed. (There were some minor successes, including enactment of a prohibition on AID-funded research into new abortion methods in 1981, and some curtailing of Pathfinder’s abortion-promoting activities in 1983.)

Second, pro-life Reagan appointees often found themselves outgunned by higher-ranking appointees — including senior presidential advisors — who had close ties to the network of population-control advocacy organizations (such as the influential Population Crisis Committee) which had grown up over two decades.

But the pro-life forces were persistent — and in due season, they achieved a breakthrough. An opening for a significant policy change was presented by the approach of the International Conference on Population, sponsored by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNF PA), scheduled for August 1984, in Mexico City.

The staffs of the White House Office of Policy Development and the National Security Council drafted a proposed position paper for the U.S. delegation to carry to the conference. This draft paper proposed that the U.S. would no longer contribute to population control programs which promoted abortion — even if they did so with non-U.S. funds.

Opponents of the proposed policy within the State Department quickly leaked the draft to the press, touching off a clamorous political fray within and outside of the Administration. Population control groups warned of dire — indeed, apocalyptic — consequences if the proposed policy was approved by the president. Scores of critical newspaper editorials — many of them light rewrites of press releases from the population lobbies — condemned the proposed policy as sheerest folly.

The White House staff proposal was watered down in some important respects: The U.S. would continue to provide population assistance to sovereign nations which include abortion in their programs, so long as the American funds were kept in segregated accounts; also, the U.S. would continue to fund UNFPA, if given “concrete assurances” that UNFPA “does not provide funding for abortion or coercive family planning activities.” But the heart of the proposal was approved by the president: no further U.S. aid would go “to non-governmental organizations which perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations.” This has since been referred to as the “Mexico City” policy.

Former Senator James Buckley, a strong pro-life advocate, was chosen to lead the American delegation to Mexico City. Robert S. McNamara, a former secretary of defense, predicted that the new policy would cause the American delegation to be “laughed out of the [Mexico City] conference.” Instead, the conference adopted a resolution, sponsored by the Vatican delegation, which said that abortion “in no way should be promoted as a method of family planning” — a development described by the New York Times as “a victory for the United States and the Vatican.”

In December 1984, AID announced that IPPF had refused to conform to the new U.S. policy, and therefore would lose eligibility for AID funds ($17 million in 1985). IPPF General-Secretary Bradman Weerakoon said that his organization would not accept the new American policy because it would prevent IPPF from “lobbying for the amendment of ineffective abortion laws” (by which he apparently meant “effective anti-abortion laws”). The vice-president for international programs of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), Daniel Weintraub, told a pro-abortion conference that IPPF would not give up its abortion-related activities because “reproductive freedom is indivisible.”

(However, IPPF and PPFA officials were less frank in most of their public statements about the administration policy. They insisted that IPPF had little involvement in abortion, and that such involvement was confined to nations in which abortion was already legal. Again, many newspaper editors and journalists accepted these claims at face value and repeated them as fact.)

A network of dozens of private American-based population groups quickly organized a lobbying and media campaign to persuade Congress to overturn the administration’s “Mexico City” policy. For a time it seemed that it might succeed. Both the Senate and the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved amendments which would have overturned the “Mexico City” policy.

But on July 10, 1985, the pro-abortion offensive was decisively defeated on the floor of the House of Representatives, during action on the 1986 foreign aid authorization bill. The pro-life forces were skillfully led by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) — one-time executive director of the New Jersey Right to Life Committee, now a third-term congressman and chairman of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus. Smith offered an amendment which explicitly affirmed the authority of the president to deny U.S. funding to organizations which promote abortion — even if the abortion-related activities are conducted with non-U.S. funds. After heated debate, Smith’s amendment was adopted by a 45-vote margin.

Predictably, once the House had reaffirmed the “Mexico City” policy, many “family planning” organizations decided that it was possible, after all, to provide contraceptive services under Uncle Sam’s new conditions. In fact, a federation of all of the IPPF affiliates in Latin America — called IPPF/Western Hemisphere — quickly agreed to the new “no abortion” policy and received a $12 million grant from AID.

The “Western Hemisphere” group’s decision violated the “reproductive rights are indivisible” party line, and it was not well received by PPFA, which had been a regular contributor to the Latin American group. According to a senior AID official, the PPFA board of directors quickly voted to cut off PPFA’s contribution to “Western Hemisphere.”

That action was rich in irony. PPFA had publicly charged that pro-life groups were using abortion as a “smokescreen,” with the real goal being curtailment of U.S. support for contraceptive programs. Yet now PPFA was itself defunding its sister organizations in Latin America — and thereby presumably reducing their ability to provide contraceptive services — simply because those organizations had promised not to promote abortion (which is illegal in Latin America) in order to obtain U.S. funding for contraceptives!

The controversy surrounding the “Mexico City” policy overlapped and led into another battle — this one over the population control program of the People’s Republic of China.

Since 1979, the Chinese government has enforced a strict “one-child” policy. With rare exceptions, a couple may have only one child — and then, only at a time determined by the government. If a Chinese woman becomes pregnant without the government-issued “birth coupon,” her pregnancy is considered “unauthorized,” and she must abort.

One of the earliest reports on this compulsory abortion policy came from anthropologist Steven Mosher, who lived unsupervised for a year in a rural Chinese village. In 1980, Mosher witnessed government officials incarcerate every pregnant woman in the village until they agreed, one by one, to submit to abortions. Some were in their third trimester. In later years, reports of widespread coerced abortions were disseminated by prestigious organs of the press, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Yet the Chinese government claimed that its population program relied on “voluntarism.” While there had been a few isolated abuses by local officials, coercion was specifically forbidden by law, Peking insisted.

A turning point in the debate occurred in January 1985. The Washington Post — no ally of the pro-life movement — published a three-part series on China’s population program, written by Michael Weisskopf, who had just completed a four-year assignment as the newspaper’s Peking correspondent. Weisskopf s detailed reports confirmed that forced abortions and even infanticide were not isolated “abuses,” but instead were being employed systematically to enforce the “one-child” policy. Weisskopf wrote:

What emerges from more than 200 interviews spaced over three years with officials, doctors, peasants and workers in almost two-thirds of China’s 29 provinces is the story of an all-out siege against ancient family traditions and against the reproductive habits of a billion people . . . .

Any mother who becomes pregnant again without receiving official authorization after having one child is required to have an abortion, and the incidence of such operations is stunning — 53 million from 1979 to 1984, according to the Ministry of Public Health . . . .

Nor is the timing of abortion usually a factor. Many are performed in the last trimester of pregnancy — 100,000 in Guangdong last year, or 20 percent of the province’s total abortions — and some as late as the ninth month. Officials say it often takes that long to get reluctant women to clinics . .

In the Inner Monogolian capital of Hohhot, however, hospital doctors practice what amounts to infanticide by a different name, according to a Hohhot surgeon, who would not allow his name to be used for fear of reprisal. After inducing labor, he revealed, doctors routinely smash the baby’s skull with forceps as it emerges from the womb. In some cases, he added, newborns are killed by injecting formaldehyde into the soft spot of the head. “If you kill the baby while it’s still partly in the womb, it’s considered an abortion,” explained the 33-year-old surgeon . . . . A doctor who ignores the regulation risks losing his job, he said, although no one objects. He estimated that hundreds of babies die this way in his hospital every year . . . .

Sometimes, officials use collective coercion in operations like that in Dongguan, where thousands of pregnant women were picked up in trucks and Jeeps, taken to commune headquarters for lectiii4s, then driven to abortion clinics, some reportedly under police escort, in what was later described by local eyewitnesses as a “slaughter movement.”

Weisskopf s articles — which were consistent with reports from many other sources — were of special concern to American pro-life leaders, because of the key role played by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNF PA) in developing and managing China’s program. The U.S. had always been the largest contributor to UNFPA. In 1984 the U.S. contribution was $38 million — about 30 percent of UNFPA’s total budget.

UNFPA’s activities in China from 1980-84 cost $50 million. That was a small part of China’s total population budget — but the UNFPA support took tangible forms crucial to the development of the entire program. UNFPA advisors worked at the State Family Planning Commission in Peking — the central directorate that issues the rigid “birth quotas” for each province. UNFPA bought the Chinese $12 million worth of IBM computers to monitor the entire program. UNFPA provided the technical experts who trained thousands of Chinese population officials.

UNFPA officials in China were aware of the involuntary elements of the program at an early date, as reported by Weisskopf in early 1983. U.N. policy technically forbids aid to coercive population programs — “but the U.N. has an ‘out’ because important Chinese family planning pronouncements often never attain ‘official’ status,” explained the newsletter of the Population Reference Bureau in May 1983.

Excited by the “effectiveness” of China’s policies, UNFPA’s top leadership began holding the program up as a model for other developing nations. In 1983, a U.N. committee chaired by UNFPA Executive Director Rafael Salas voted to give China’s family planning minister, Qian Xinzhong, an award for the “most outstanding contribution to the awareness of population questions.”

The award was widely publicized in China. In his book The Crowded Earth (Norton, 1984), former New York Times writer Pranay Gupte reported on a subsequent interview with Qian Xinzhong, who “immediately launched into an appreciation of what the U.N. award meant to him and to the Chinese. The award had, he said, put the imprimatur of the world body on China’s family planning efforts . . . .”

In 1984 — after abundant evidence of China’s coercive policies was already in the public domain — UNFPA’s governing board approved a five-year, $50 million extension of UNFPA’s program in China (for 1985-89). The program document listed “strengthening the management capabilities of the State Family Planning Commission” as a priority.

Following publication of Weisskopf’s series in the Post in January 1985, Rep. Smith, Sen. Helms, Rep. Jack Kemp (R-NY), and the National Right to Life Committee stepped up efforts to make future U.S. contributions to UNFPA contingent on withdrawal from China’s coercive program.

Attempting to defend UNFPA’s role in China, Rep. Peter Kostmayer (D-PA) wrote that “UNFPA acts as a restraining influence on the excesses of the Chinese program.” Just a few weeks earlier, Salas had exhibited his “restraining influence” when he visited Peking and told senior Chinese officials that “China should be proud of the achievements it scored in family planning” — as reported on page 1 of the China Daily.

On both the “Mexico City” and China/UNFPA issues, the central tactic of the pro-abortion groups was simple: They insisted that U.S. funds were not supporting abortion activities overseas, and they charged that pro-life groups and pro-life congressmen were manufacturing phony abortion issues as weapons to cripple the “real” targets: contraception programs.

One of the most vigorous promulgators of this diversionary approach was Werner Fornos, president of the Population Institute, a non-profit “educational” organization headquartered in Washington. (The Population Institute receives much of its budget from UNFPA. Fornos himself holds an honorary professorship in international relations from China’s government-controlled Sichuan University.) Publicly, Fornos insisted that no population control group favored abortion as a means of family planning. Fornos told the press he had “no problem” with the 1973 Helms Amendment. However, Fornos laid it out straight when he spoke to a small group of Planned Parenthood activists (among whom was seated one pro-life sympathizer, who tape-recorded his remarks).

“We need to separate the abortion issue from the family planning issue, when we’re dealing with our legislators,” Fornos advised the pro-abortion activitists. He added: “Two years from now, I may stand here and advocate something different . . . . Certainly, if we ever have enough votes [in Congress], we ought to desperately seek a repeal of the [1973] Helms Amendment.”

A few weeks later Fornos, in an interview with the Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer, attacked Sen. Helms as a “coward” who “is willing to ride this issue of religious zealots and a few right-wing nuts .. . a minority element within the Roman church.”

“Helms is not a Roman Catholic,” pointed out the Observer editor.

“The leadership of the right-to-life movement, and the majority of that movement, is Rome-directed,” Fornos replied. (Catholics in fact make up less than two percent of the population of North Carolina.)

Among Forno’s allies were several major environmental organizations (including the National Audubon Society), and the usual assortment of feminist “pro-choice” groups (none of which seemed very concerned regarding the lack of “choice” afforded to millions of Chinese women).

After months of this sort of thing, the issue came before the House in the form of a lengthy amendment offered by Rep. Smith. It read in part: “The Congress finds . . . the Government of the People’s Republic of China has systematically employed coercive abortion and coercive sterilization as a means of enforcing that government’s one-child-per-couple policy . . . . The Congress condemns these practices as crimes against humanity and calls upon the Government of the PRC to cease these human rights abuses.” (The language was borrowed from the Nuremberg Tribunals, which convicted certain German officials of “crimes against humanity” for forcing Polish women to submit to abortions.) This amendment — which also repealed a longstanding law which guaranteed annual U.S. funding of UNFPA — was adopted by an overwhelming margin of 289 to 130, despite opposition by AID.

The next day the president of China, Li Xiannian, angrily denounced the House action, which he said constituted “absolutely unacceptable” interference in China’s internal affairs. “The Chinese people are indignant to the utmost degree,” he fumed. The portion of Smith’s amendment which explicitly condemned China’s practices was later dropped in the House/Senate conference committee, but the key substantive provision — repealing the law which guaranteed annual funding of UNFPA — was enacted.

Meanwhile, Rep. Kemp launched a second legislative missile at the China/UNFPA program — an amendment to a supplemental appropriations bill to prohibit further U.S. population assistance to “any organization or program which supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion.” The amendment was strongly opposed by Rep. David Obey (D-WI), chairman of the sub-committee with jurisdiction over foreign aid. Such opposition by a subcommittee chairman is usually the kiss of death in the Appropriations Committee. But Kemp’s attack was adroitly executed, and he defeated Obey on a 24-20 vote. In the Senate, the Kemp amendment survived thanks largely to the skillful efforts of Sen. Bob Kasten (R-WI), who chairs the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, and Senator Helms. President Reagan signed the measure into law in August 1985.

Congress had spoken — but the Executive Branch still had to determine officially whether UNFPA was actually in violation of the Kemp/Kasten law. Members of Congress, advocacy groups, and diplomats on both sides of the issue furiously lobbied the White House and the State Department.

Finally, in September, AID Administrator M. Peter McPherson declared that “UNFPA participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization in the People’s Republic of China within the meaning of the [Kemp/Kasten] amendment.” Thus, McPherson said, $10 million in 1985 funds, intended for UNFPA but not yet expended, would be re-directed to other population programs.

McPherson’s decision was immediately challenged in a lawsuit filed by the Population Institute, which’ argued that UNFPA did not support a program of coercive abortion. The case dragged on until this August when a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia — the nation’s second-highest court — unanimously upheld McPherson’s judgment that UNFPA was in violation of the Kemp amendment.

The ruling was an especially bitter pill for UNFPA’s defenders because it was written by Judge Abner Mikva — once a prominent defender of abortion in Congress, before his appointment to the bench by President Carter. Mikva wrote that McPherson’s description of UNFPA’s extensive activities in China “amply supports his conclusion that funding UNFPA is prohibited by the [Kemp/Kasten] amendment.”

Thus, it seems fair to say that all three branches of the federal government have reached the same conclusion: UNFPA is supporting a program of coercive abortion.

In the meantime, Salas gave a speech in Washington in which he again praised China’s program, adding that “the Chinese themselves will say that, within their cultural norms, they are not at all coercive …. Each country must determine that for themselves.” Salas’s critical remarks were reserved for the United States. You are in no position, morally or culturally, to dictate to others what they want!” he said. “It is the leaders of those countries who know best.”

In response, 22 House members signed a letter stating that China’s coercive practices “violate basic principles of human rights, which are binding on all nations.” On August 1, the liberally inclined House Foreign Affairs Committee adopted a resolution by Chris Smith, strongly criticizing China for a “one-child-per-family policy that relies on coercion, economic penalties, and forced abortions (often late in pregnancy) as a means of enforcing compliance.” Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-NY), the solidly pro-abortion chairman of the Asian Affairs Subcommittee, defended Smith’s resolution. Solarz said he initially had been skeptical, but after consulting with leading experts was convinced that “these practices to which he [Smith] referred are going on on a fairly widespread basis in the PRC — and I think that is obviously unacceptable.”

Three weeks later, McPherson announced that because China continues to employ coercion and because UNFPA continues to be deeply involved, the U.S. would completely boycott UNFPA this year. The $25 million set aside for UNFPA would be re-directed to “voluntary family planning” projects in other nations, he said.

President Reagan did not mention China by name, but there is no doubt what nation he had in mind when he filmed a speech to the National Right to Life Convention in June.

“The promotion of abortion and the use of forced abortion as a means of population control are direct attacks upon the values which are the foundation of Western civilization, and upon the human family itself,” the President said. “This is the ultimate human rights issue.”

Americans can be proud that our Congress and our president have taken substantive action to condemn China’s barbaric, uncivilized treatment of women, unborn children, and newborn infants. It remains evident, however, that the United States government cannot provide convincing moral leadership for other nations regarding abortion, so long as our own unborn children enjoy no protection under law. Only through the continuing efforts of countless thousands of pro-life citizens, and by the grace of God, will America one day offer the rest of the world an authentic example of a society which reverences the sanctity of innocent human life.


  • Douglas Johnson

    Douglas Johnson is legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.

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