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June 23, 2003

People of faith join forces to protect UNFPA funding; Diverse faiths say commitment to international family planning must remain strong

Washington, DC–A group of more than 171 religious leaders and lay people who are Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists and Hindus today urged members of the US House of Representatives to oppose any attempts to limit funding to the United Nations Population Fund. The ad hoc coalition of religious leaders said the US must maintain its support of international family planning.

Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, said the coalition represents religious leaders who actively supported the founding of the UN and continue to believe that the strength of the UN and its agencies is critical for world peace and justice.

“We recognize the importance of the United Nations in providing the world with humanitarian assistance, especially to people in developing countries,” said Kissling. As a UN agency, UNFPA is vital to the reproductive health needs of families by providing life-saving services such as maternal and child heath care, family planning, and HIV/AIDS prevention, counseling and services to people living in developing countries around the world. As people of faith, we understand that women and men must have access to information and services so they can act morally and responsibly in their sexual behavior. Highly respected religious leaders, such as the Dalai Lama and Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, view modern family planning as a moral good,” she said.

On May 8, 2003, the House International Relations Committee endorsed an important amendment to the Department of State Authorization Act (HR 1950) offered by Representative Joseph Crowley that would facilitate US contributions to the United Nations Population Fund.

“As people of faith and leaders in the religious community, we ask that you support UNFPA and oppose any efforts to strip the Crowley provision when the State Department authorization bill comes before the House floor,” said Kissling.

“For Muslim women, family planning is key to their empowerment, and their ability to live responsible Muslim lives,” said Zainah Anwar, executive director, Sisters In Islam, Malaysia.

Said Kissling, “We believe that UNFPA has been unequivocally committed to providing informed and voluntary family planning. We understand some lawmaker’s concern about abortion, but every dollar spent on family planning means fewer illegal, unsafe abortions. Several independent investigations have found that UNFPA has used, and continues to use, its stature as a UN agency to help governments, like China, to move more and more towards respect for the rights of women and men to decide for themselves on the number and spacing of their children and to move away from draconian practices. The agency deserves and needs support and we urge our lawmakers to respond with compassion and again vote to provide much needed life-saving funds for UNFPA.”