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US officials looking to cut wasteful spending have wrong definition of ‘wasteful’

Lafleur Clermite, a young Haitian woman, was nine months pregnant when earthquakes rattled Port-Au-Prince last year. Amidst the devastation and destruction, finding a clinic to help her deliver her baby seemed a near impossible feat; yet, miraculously, Lafleur walked to the enduring city hospital and, with the aid of a volunteer obstetrician and donated safe delivery supplies, a baby boy was in her arms by the next afternoon.

In calamities and crises, when infrastructure has crumbled and basic services and needs cannot be met, medical supplies can make the difference between life and death. In Lafleur’s case, the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) was the agency that provided the safe delivery supplies which ensured both her’s and her baby’s survival. Unfortunately, the future efficacy of UNFPA is uncertain.

House Republicans initiated a website called “YouCut” so Americans could vote on where to direct spending cuts. Wednesday, congresswoman Renee Ellmers, R-North Carolina 2nd district, announced that the winning program of the first round of YouCut was the UNFPA.

She stated in a press release, “This is just the first of many steps we are taking to stop wasteful spending and turn our economy around. I look forward to working to push defunding of this program through the House and hopefully getting the bill to the floor for a vote.”

I appreciate a tool like YouCut, which as Ellmers rightfully states, “allows the public to directly engage in the legislative process.”

I also commend Ellmers efforts to stop wasteful spending. What I do take issue with, however, is what Ellmers considers wasteful. The UNFPA is anything but.

Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in their book “Half the Sky” outline why many believe in the defunding of the UNFPA: “Driven in part by conservative Christians, Republican presidents, including both Bushes, instituted the ‘gag rule’, barring funds to any foreign aid group that, even with other money, counseled women about abortion options or had any link to abortions.”

According to Ellmer’s press release the Bush administration defunded UNFPA “due to UNFPA’s complicity in China’s one-child policy. China’s one-child policy has been enforced over the years through coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization.”

Bush’s move to halt funds makes no sense. An investigation of the UNFPA in China by the State Department during Bush’s own administration found “no evidence that UNFPA has knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in the PRC (People’s Republic of China).”

In fact, stated on the UNFPA website, one area that the agency assists in is the “prevention of abortion and management of its consequences”.

Indeed, the UNFPA has a lofty mission that all, no matter which party, would applaud, “to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.”

This year alone, the UNFPA has helped fistula patients in the Democratic Republic of Congo gain job skills to achieve self-sufficiency, provided bleach to treat water and prevent the spread of cholera in Haiti helping especially vulnerable groups like pregnant women, and developed a reporting and response system in Sudan to curb gender-based violence. Although President Obama in 2009 resumed funding to the UNFPA, the continuance of vital programs like these are threatened as congresswoman Ellmers introduces the bill to defund the UNFPA.

I can only hope as the bill makes it way through the house and is debated that someone speaks up for the recipients of UNFPA funding—the women and girls in developing countries who desperately depend on the UNFPA’s life-saving programs.

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