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Why Bush denied money to population fund

It’s not hard to figure out what President Bush was thinking last month when he pulled the rug out from beneath Secretary of State Colin Powell and abruptly withheld $34 million from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which supports programs on family planning and maternal health.

He certainly wasn’t thinking about the two million unwanted pregnancies and 800,000 abortions the agency estimates will occur as a result of the slashed budget. And he certainly wasn’t thinking about the estimated 4,700 mothers and 77,000 children that the agency estimates will die without the health services the agency can no longer provide.

No, in this case Bush was only thinking about throwing a pre-election bone to the ultra-conservative ultra-fundamentalists in his own party – groups like the Population Research Institute, whose virulent opposition to abortion has apparently mushroomed to include all forms of family planning.



Like last year’s decision to pull out of the Kyoto Global Warming Accords, the United States is going it alone here – we are the only country who has ever denied funding to the UNFPA for non-budgetary reasons. And aside from the brief election-year boost Bush may hope to gain from pandering to the ultra-fundamentalists, there is nothing for anyone to feel good about in this decision.

Only an extreme group like the PRI, whose director’s writings extol the virtues of childbearing to ‘help populate heaven’ (and given the continuing state of third-world health care, the little souls should be getting up there faster than ever) could claim a victory from this monstrously short-sighted action. Anti-abortion activists should not be misled – despite Bush’s claims, the UNFPA has never promoted abortion in China or anywhere else.




In fact, Colin Powell’s task force, in recommending that the funds be released to the UNFPA, determined that abortions have actually decreased in the Chinese counties where the agency has been active. This is of course simple common sense – access to contraceptives, such as provided (along with immunizations, maternal care and HIV/AIDS prevention services) by the UNFPA is obviously the best way to reduce abortions.

The opposition to contraception expressed by groups like PRI, and endorsed by President Bush, certainly suggests less interest in decreasing abortions than in keeping women pregnant and producing souls for heaven – which presumably will have more room for them than does our overburdened planet.

I don’t really believe President Bush shares the extreme views of groups like PRI, but I do believe he is all too willing to curry political favor with them at the expense of women in third world countries. The problem is, the damage from Bush’s actions will not stop at the borders of those countries. The explosive growth of the world’s population – which is expected to double by the year 2050 – will continue to have a direct and devastating impact on the quality of life throughout California and right here in Nevada County.

It never fails to amaze me that we can spend so much time arguing amongst ourselves over land use issues without talking about the population explosion that is the real source of the problem. It doesn’t matter which side of the land use debates you might find yourself on – environmentalist, housing advocate, property rightist – California’s skyrocketing population, fueled by immigration and the highest birthrate in the nation (on a par with Sri Lanka’s,) continues to be the real problem.

Concerned about traffic? Imagine 50 percent more Californians on the roads in 25 years. Concerned over increasing governmental restrictions? Prepare yourself for a lot more regulations as we grow from 35 million people to a jam-packed 52 million.

Concerned about housing? If we can’t provide sufficient housing today, where are we going to put the 250,000 additional new homes needed statewide every year? Concerned about our growing dependence on imported food? Over one million prime farming acres are expected to be lost in the Central Valley alone by the year 2040, with another 2.5 million acres at risk. Concerned about the environment? Fuhgetaboutit.

Any intelligent conversation about land use and the environment needs to begin with one fundamental question – what is the carrying capacity of the environment? How many people can a region sustainably support? Against the backdrop of uncontrolled population growth, this question is tragically academic, but the truth is that California has already exceeded its carrying capacity – our ever-worsening traffic snarls, chronic water and power shortages, diminishing air quality and vanishing wildlife habitats make that abundantly clear.

It’s also abundantly clear that we need real leadership to turn us from our headlong rush to the precipice. We already have strong local leadership, with a proven commitment to protecting our county’s resources and quality of life. But to protect our resources and our quality of life in the long term, we need leadership on the world stage.

We need a federal government with the vision to address the global population crisis. We need a federal government with the political will to devote a fair portion of our nation’s substantial resources to raising standards of living and increasing access to family planning services world-wide.

We can’t afford to ignore the issue of out-of-control population growth any longer. And we certainly can’t afford to allow our president to pull the rug out from under the few organizations like the United Nations Population Fund that are actually doing something about the problem.

Brian Bisnett of Higgins Corner writes a monthly column.


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