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US Policy on Family Planning in China is Misguided

November 24, 2003

Interfaith Delegation Finds UNFPA a Positive Force in China;
Delegation Calls on President Bush to Support Funding of UN Agency

New evidence based on first-hand observations in China prove UN agency plays critical role in promoting voluntary, high quality reproductive health care for Chinese


New York — Nine religious and faith-based organization leaders and ethicists, representing Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant groups, presented a report today to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) proving that the UN agency promotes voluntary, high quality reproductive health care in China. Their report, The United Nations Population Fund in China: A Catalyst for Change, was presented to UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid just following a decision by the US Congress to restore funding of the UN agency.

Upon receiving the report, UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid stated, “I am extremely gratified that the religious leaders who visited China have affirmed that UNFPA is promoting voluntary choice in the Chinese family planning program and is not involved in any way with coercive practices.”

The report was released before members of the United Nations diplomatic community at a luncheon briefing today, and was introduced by the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations. The briefing, attended by members of the diplomatic community including China and Switzerland, UN agencies and the NGO community including the United Methodist UN Office, the Committee of Religious NGOs, Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) and the Center for Reproductive Rights, was intended to inform the media and the diplomatic and non-governmental community of the moral and ethical value that UNFPA’s presence in China has in promoting women’s human rights.

In his opening remarks at the luncheon, Ambassador Dirk Jan van den Berg, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the United Nations recognized the critical nature of the report at the briefing: “As the largest donor to UNFPA,” he said, “the Netherlands fully concurs with the findings of this report. We firmly believe that the provision of quality reproductive and sexual health care is paramount to achieve the goals and objectives of the Cairo agenda, for which we fought hard ten years ago. Since Cairo, lack of funding for reproductive and sexual health care programmes, combined with increased conservatism, has hampered progress to improve the health of women and children, violated women’s rights and stalled development progress.”

The Report has been sent to President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell to refute claims made by right-wing religious groups that UNFPA supports coercion in Chinese family planning. Congressional approval of a foreign operations bill that includes possible funding for UNFPA is anticipated this week and President Bush must decide whether or not to approve restoration of US funding for UNFPA. The interfaith group urges him to consider evidence they gathered during a week-long trip to China in September, visiting six counties and interviewing national and local family planning officials, as well as Chinese women and men in towns and villages.

“On the basis of our meetings with Chinese family planning officials and ordinary citizens, we can say with confidence that all of the programs with which UNFPA is currently working are committed to avoiding any practice of forced abortions or involuntary sterilizations,” stated Ronald Green, Chair, Department of Religion, Dartmouth College, and a member of the interfaith delegati

“It is reasonable to be concerned about and to monitor China’s family planning policies and practices,” stated Rev. James Martin-Schramm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, explaining a finding of the delegation. “It is even more important to actively assist and engage the Chinese on these matters, as the UNFPA does. We recommend that the US adopt a policy of constructive engagement in China that includes full cooperation with the UNFPA and a renewal of financial support to UNFPA.”

Other members of the interfaith delegation include: Nazir Khaja, M.D., President, Islamic Information Services; Nancy Kipnis, J.D., National Vice-President, National Council of Jewish Women; Rev. James Martin-Schramm, Ph.D., Chair of Board, Division for Church in Society, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Rev. Meg A. Riley, M.A., Director, Advocacy and Witness Program, Unitarian Universalist Association; Maureen Shea, Director of Government Relations, Episcopal Church USA; Rev. Paul H. Sherry, Ph.D., former President, United Church of Christ; Rev. Carlton W. Veazey, M.A., President and CEO, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

Delegation members are working within their organizations and faith groups to educate the religious and ethics communities about the importance of UNFPA’s work in China and to mobilize the mainstream religious community to make their views known to Bush and Powell. Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice noted, “We hope that people of faith will call and write the president in unprecedented numbers to let him know that we support the United Nations and that we support the efforts of the UNFPA to assist Chinese family planners in their effort to ensure voluntary, quality reproductive health services throughout China.”

Media Contacts: Geoffrey Knox, Roberta Sklar at Work: 212-229-0540; Cell: 917-704-6358

Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) is a non-governmental organization with special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Catholics for a Free Choice shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women’s well-being, and respect and affirm the moral capacity of women and men to make sound decisions about their lives. Through discourse, education and advocacy, CFFC works in the United States and internationally to infuse these values into public policy, community life, feminist analysis and Catholic social thinking and teaching.