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Abortion imperialism

Nonprofits export birth-control and abortion policy with the blessing and funding of the U.S.

No matter the direction of prevailing political winds, non-profit organizations enjoy an almost unbroken flow of federal funds to controversial family-planning programs abroad. An effort by congressional leaders last year to bar U.S. foreign aid and UN funding from groups that promote abortion did nothing to slow them down.

Latest among the efforts to control population is a push to make abortion available in refugee camps, even if that means violating laws restricting abortion in the country where the camps are located. Members of a UN-sponsored "working group on reproductive health," organized after the UN's Cairo Conference on Population Control, are expected to finish a manual later this month titled "Reproductive Health in Refugee Camps."

Drafts of the manual have been circulating for over a year in Washington and Geneva, headquarters of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Pro-life groups are sounding alarm bells about at least two proposed guidelines in the manual. One would allow camp medical personnel to distribute what the manual calls "emergency post-coital contraception," more commonly known as morning-after pills. The manual writers deny that the pills act as abortifacients, relying on a World Health Organization definition that pregnancy begins at implantation rather than conception. The pill supposedly works prior to implantation of a fertilized egg.

Another guideline concerns the use of manual vacuum aspirators. The size of a large syringe, this non-electric version of the vacuum aspirators found in abortion clinics is cited as necessary equipment to deal with miscarriages or complications with expelling afterbirth tissue in the camps.

The handheld devices are gaining popularity in the United States among abortion providers as a way to perform the procedure earlier in pregnancy (see cover story, page 12). The technique, which suctions the tiny gestational sac from the uterus in a matter of minutes, was devised by the medical director at Planned Parenthood in Houston. International Planned Parenthood Federation is among the groups lobbying the UNHCR to include the aspirator in medical equipment for the refugee camps.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the House subcommittee on human rights, met with the high commissioner, Sadako Ogata, last month to raise concern about the potential for world-body support of abortion in the refugee camps. But he is in a delicate position, according to human-rights subcommittee chief counsel Joseph Rees: "[Mr. Smith] is pro-refugee, and he doesn't want to get into a position where people will overreact and cut off funding for refugees."

Already the morning-after pills have been made available to refugees, reportedly rape victims, in camps bordering Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), where rape has been a prevalent problem. At a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, at least 30 refugees also have been given kits containing the pills. They, too, were rape victims, but even so, according to a nurse who spoke with Mr. Rees at the camp in Dadaab, several of the women said they would not take the pill.

At the time of Mr. Rees's visit, the camp in Kenya had run out of vegetable oil, reflecting "the skewed priority," he said, of forcing contraception on people who've lost their homes, their livelihoods, and perhaps their families.

"When they are faced with malnutrition, quality of shelter problems, violence, and sometimes forced repatriation, this should be way down on the list," he told WORLD.

Mr. Rees, who has visited nearly 20 refugee camps, says he does not think abortions are taking place in the camps now. Combining the tools to perform them with the high-stress environment of the camp, however, is a potent prescription for coercing the poorest of the poor into having them.

Many of the largest nonprofits peddling contraceptives or pushing abortion overseas derive nearly all their operating revenue from grants and contracts from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). They make up the rest with money from the United Nations Population Control Fund (UNFPA) or World Bank loans. They are staffed by former USAID employees. And when USAID or a UN agency convenes one of its many "working groups" on family planning, those officers are often called to serve as "private sector advisors." From plush office-park settings among pharmaceutical giants outside Raleigh, N.C., and Boston to downtown cubbyholes in Third World capitals like Nairobi and Istanbul, these multinationals blend humanitarian rhetoric and big business into a sophisticated brand of corporate welfare.

One of the biggest, Family Health International, is based outside Raleigh. It is the government's largest condom distributor (the federal government sends 1 billion condoms overseas each year) and also conducts research and development for intrauterine devices and other contraceptives. FHI obtains all but $2 1/2 million of its $69 million-a-year budget from the federal government. USAID contributes $63 million in grants and contracts.

Pathfinder, Inc., a nonprofit family-planning group based outside Boston, receives $34 million of its $43 million budget from USAID. And Population Services International of Washington, D.C., receives $27 million from USAID of a $34 million business in overseas family-planning projects.

Under the Reagan and Bush administrations, these nonprofits, called nongovernmental organizations or NGOs, could not receive federal funds if they performed or actively promoted abortion. During that time the UN population agency also was denied U.S. funding because of its support for and participation in China's coercive one-child policy. One of President Clinton's first acts after taking office was to erase that policy in 1993. NGOs are still barred from using taxpayer money to perform abortions overseas, but they are welcome to use funds from other sources for that purpose. This leads to creative bookkeeping among NGOs who handle abortions and prompts members of the industry to become masters of Orwellian terminology:

*"Community-based service distribution" is a common reference to birth control clinics.

*"Birth-spacing options" includes counseling for abortion as well as birth control.

*"Influencing demographic behavior" is how the Population Council (instrumental in research into RU-486) describes reducing birth rates through contraception and abortion.

*"Social marketing programs for condoms" is now the preferred term for condom giveaways.

*Contraceptive devices are measured in "couple-years-of-protection," representing "the amount of contraception necessary to protect one couple for one year," according to Population Services International.

*"Population services" has even widely replaced the once-euphemistic "population control."

*And the World Bank recently changed the name of its Population Health Network to the "Human Development Department."

Carefully crafting the language only veils a broader agenda. Pathfinder, which in the past included abortions in its portfolio, now targets young teens in its promotional material. In a section on "adolescents," the organization says its goals are "increasing access to safe FP [family planning]"; "promoting good RH [reproductive health] behavior at an early age"; "educating newlyweds on birth-spacing options"; and "to increase support among local organizations for adolescent service delivery."

A five-year study conducted by FHI with USAID funding reached these conclusions: "Childbearing reduces the likelihood women will work for pay." "Women who do work for pay are likely to spend their earnings to improve the quality of life for their families." "Childbearing has a negative effect on women's participation in the labor force." The report concluded, "In short, there is a 'child tax' or cost associated with each birth, which limits improvements in women's earnings."

Members of Congress may have a new and better opportunity to put a little distance between federal dollars and overseas abortions as early as February. That is when Congress is likely to consider a supplemental appropriation package for the International Monetary Fund in order to bail out Asia's financial markets.

"Logical or not," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's spokesman Bill Gribbin, "the IMF money will be the train on which to attach this caboose."

Pro-life leaders in both houses will attempt to add instructions in the appropriations bill, similar to those on the books under Presidents Reagan and Bush, which would eliminate federal funding for groups that promote or perform abortions overseas. That maneuver was attempted last year on the president's fast-track trade legislation, and President Clinton gave up on the measure rather than concede to the pro-life initiative. Likewise, any measure to curtail federal funding for family planning faces dim prospects. "Any freestanding bill will go nowhere with this administration," said Mr. Gribbin. So pro-life lawmakers will push for riders on legislation the president covets or look for ways to amend authorization bills that can't be undone by the president's line-item veto pen.

Mindy Belz

Mindy Belz

Mindy is senior editor of WORLD Magazine and the author of They Say We Are Infidels. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.