WASHINGTON - The Bush administration has announced that it will again deny federal funds to the United Nations Family Planning Agency on grounds that the UN cooperates with countries that force its citizens to undergo involuntary abortions or sterilization.
The move comes, conincidentally or not, with efforts by Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, the probable Democratic nominee, to court evangelicals and other Christians on the basis of his own vision of faith. Many such groups were mobilized by Bush in 2004 by claims that Democrats would fight Republican attempts to limit legal abortions in the U.S.
Bush is withholding about $40 million from the UNFPA on the basis of a law sponsored in 1985 by then Congressman Jack F. Kemp, R-Hamburg. The law prohibited the release of federal funds for foreign aid to any agency "that supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization."
President Reagan denied UNFPA any money on the basis of the Kemp bill. His successor, George H.W. Bush, who was privately ambivalent on reproductive issues, also withheld the money under heavy pressure from Kemp, who had challenged Bush for the Republican presidential nomination.
Democratic President Clinton generally bypassed the Kemp bill, but the level of Clinton support for UNFPA fluctuated because of pressure from pro-lifers in Republican congresses elected after 1994.
The current President Bush, on advice of Colin Powell's State Department, restored $21.5 million to the UNFPA in his first year in office in 2001, but then Bush cut it off in 2002. The Bushes and Reagan interpreted the Kemp amendment very broadly and justified the cutoff on grounds that the UN had been shown to have cooperated in the "one child" program of the Peoples Republic of China. But in so doing, the funds were denied to efforts in dozens of other nations where no shred of coercion has been proved.
One group that supports the prohibition is the pro-life organization, Population Research Institute, whose president, Steven Mosher, calls the PRC's one-child program "barbaric." There can be little doubt that Obama, if elected, would seek to find a way around the Kemp amendment. No Democratic presidential nominee since Bill Clinton has been more strongly pro-choice. During this year's Democratic primary season, Obama wrested away from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., the endorsement of the National Abortion Rights Action League.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the likely Republican presidential nominee, is strongly pro-life, but his views on the Kemp amendment, and what he would do about it if elected, are not clear. Kemp is an advisor to McCcain, but chiefly on economics. Still, foreign aid for family planning could be a useful wedge issue for McCain in his quest to retain for the Republicans the bulk of the evangelical vote.