WASHINGTON – A group of mostly Democratic members of Congress want to know why $34 million earmarked for U.N. family planning programs and approved by President Bush last year is being held up by the administration.
Congress approved the money last year, and Bush signed it into law. But the funds have not been released. Critics allege the program tolerates abortions and sterilization performed by force in China, an accusation program officials and abortion rights supporters deny.
White House aides say Bush has not made a decision on when to release the family planning money, but denied that he is going to withhold the funds.
The 48 lawmakers have written Bush asking that he release the findings of an American delegation that traveled to China in early May to see how the funds are used. The group asked Bush to meet with them so they could "share our understanding" of how U.N. population fund programs in China operate.
The letter expressed dismay at media reports saying Bush was thinking of cutting the funds, adding that such a policy would indicate a sharp turn away from his administration's previously stated support for the program
"For the past 18 months, your administration believed that the UNFPA was performing a vital service around the world," the letter said. "We fear that this decision is being made based not on the facts, or on what is in the best interests of the lives of women, but rather on political calculations."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters Monday the administration intended to release the delegation's report when Bush decides what to do about the funding. Since Bush has not made a decision, "I'm not in a position to give any more details of the report," Boucher said.
The delegation's report, submitted to the White House within days of their return from China, could resolve the matter, lawmakers said. They said they suspect the group found no evidence that the funds go toward forced abortion.
"If the report was bad news for population funding ... that report would have been all over the newspapers yesterday," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey.
"The administration will not let us see it," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. She accused a key presidential advisor, Karl Rove, of squashing the report and "catering to the right wing" for political purposes. Lawmakers suspect its content is similar to a report by a British delegation that visited China a month earlier.
The report by the British delegation, dated July 2 and submitted to international development secretary Clare Short, said they did not find evidence that the U.N. funding was misused.
"Both professionals and village women said that they had not heard of abuses, either in the present or the past, although the professionals thought that under the former family planning regime, abuses were possible," the report said. "No one expressed any grievances or complaints of any kind, or knew of any abuses, in the years when UNFPA had supported (family planning) programs in the villages."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.