UNFPA expects defunding announcement 'at any moment'

A patient has blood drawn for testing at a health center in Uganda. Photo by: UNFPA / CC BY-NC-ND

The administration of President Donald Trump is expected to imminently pull U.S. funding to the United Nations Population Fund, costing the organization a major supporter.

The announcement of the defunding move — which has also happened under previous Republican administrations — is expected “at any moment,” according to multiple sources, including a senior source within the UNFPA who spoke anonymously due to the sensitivities of the issue.

The U.S. is the second largest contributor to the UNFPA, which had $979 million of contributions in 2015.

In the fiscal year 2016, the U.S. Congress appropriated $32.5 million to the UNFPA’s core funding, while the U.S. also allocated $38.3 million to the UNFPA through non-core funding to its humanitarian work, according to the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy and policy group Guttmacher Institute.

“UNFPA, we believe, is going to be the next shoe that drops and the mechanism they are likely to use to defund UNFPA will be the Kemp-Kasten provision,” said Sneha Barot, a senior policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute. “Every Republican president has used this to defund the UNFPA.”

The Kemp-Kasten amendment, first enacted in 1985, prohibits foreign aid to an organization that is involved in coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization. Previous Republican administrations have withdrawn funding to the UNFPA on the claim that it performs coercive abortions and involuntary sterilizations in China. The UNFPA has not, in fact, worked to support the Chinese government’s One-China policy.

A president has the ability to make a determination on his own, through an investigation, whether an organization has violated this amendment, according to Barot. Most of the UNFPA’s work in China now is not focused on reproductive health, but rather on gender-based violence, ageing populations and other issues.

“We’ve been waiting this week to get the official announcement and have heard rumors that something was signed but we have not receiving anything yet on the determination,” said Jonathan Rucks, director of advocacy at the reproductive health care group PAI.

“Every Republican administration has gotten the work of UNFPA wrong,” said Rucks.

U.S. funding allocated to the UNFPA is also withheld, specifically from its China program.

“No evidence has ever been found that UNFPA has done any work of coercion, and in fact, investigations have found that UNFPA has been a positive influence in promoting voluntary decision-making and family planning,” Barot said.

In a Jan. 2017 draft executive order to cut U.N. funding, the Trump administration singled out the UNFPA and included a provision on U.S. funding for organizations that support coercive abortion or sterilization services.

“We are especially concerned [about] what this means for things like contraceptive commodities ... given shifts in the European donor environment, and you have these incredible cuts proposed by USAID, this is going to drastically impact contraceptive commodities around the world,” Rucks said.  

The UNFPA provided reproductive health services to more than 23 million women in 2015.

Cuts would also likely result in the shutdown of projects in many countries, including Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen and Afghanistan, as the Guardian reported.

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About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.