Bush Nixes Family Planning Funds

California Angels' Star Lyman Bostock stares down a pitch during batting practice just before a game with the Seattle Mariners in Seattle, April 19, 1978. Bostock's life was cut short after being murdered by Leonard Smith in his hometown of Gary, Indiana. AP Photo

The United States will not pay $34 million it earmarked for U.N. family planning programs overseas, an initiative aimed at controlling population but one that conservative groups charge tolerates abortions and forced sterilizations in China.

Critics of the decision said they smelled politics at work.

Administration officials, lawmakers and interest groups that monitor the issue said Sunday they have been told the decision is final. One administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said an announcement is likely from the State Department on Tuesday, but added the timing could change.

White House officials said privately that conservative activists have for months quietly pressured the administration to prove President George W. Bush's anti-abortion credentials by permanently denying money to the United Nations Population Fund. The fund helps countries deal with reproductive and sexual health, family planning and population strategy.

Conservative activists helped carry Bush to the presidency, and White House political advisers have carefully tended them with an eye to his re-election. But the decision on family planning could also damage Bush's standing with moderates and women.

The White House has kept the politically delicate decision a closely guarded secret. It has refused to divulge it even to allies in Congress, such as the Pro-life Caucus.

More than a dozen administration officials, inside the White House and out, declined to comment Sunday or did not return phone calls on the matter, so the reasoning behind the decision was not clear.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer wouldn't talk about the matter Monday, beyond saying that an announcement will come soon. He referred questions to the State Department, which declined comment Sunday.

Just last year, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Senate that the U.N. agency does "invaluable work" and "provides critical population assistance to developing countries."

Bush himself proposed $25 million for the organization, an increase from the $21.5 million the fund got during the last year of the Clinton administration. Key lawmakers later agreed on $34 million for the agency.

The president has already signed into law the foreign aid bill that contains the $34 million. But when he did so in January, he noted in an accompanying statement that it gives him "additional discretion to determine the appropriate level of funding for the United Nations Population Fund."

Two administration officials said Bush is now likely to channel the $34 million to family planning organizations run by the State Department's Agency for International Development.

A study from a U.S. government fact-finding mission to China in early May reportedly found no evidence that the U.N.'s program directly or indirectly facilitates forced sterilizations and abortions in China. A British delegation visited China a month before the U.S. team arrived and its investigators also did not find evidence that U.N. funds were misused for such purposes.

At the Chinese Embassy, spokesman Xie Feng told a news conference that it was unfortunate that the administration is not abiding by conclusions of the U.S. government report.

"We hope that this decision will be changed," Xie said. He added that China does not attempt to keep population rates down through coercion but rather through encouragement.

  • John Esterbrook

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