WASHINGTON – The United States cannot legally or morally contribute the $34 million in funds it promised to the United Nations Population Fund because of its association with Chinese government programs that impose abortions on women, Secretary of State Colin Powell concluded Monday.
"After careful consideration of the law and all the information that's available, including the report from the team that we sent to China in May, we came to the conclusion that the U.N. Population Fund monies go to Chinese agencies that carry out coercive programs," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, clarifying that there's no evidence the money went directly to funding these abortions.
China, with more than 1.2 billion people, has long administered a population control program that limits families to one child per couple. If couples violate that rule, they can be subject to severe penalties, Boucher said.
The legal basis for the decision, according to Boucher, is governed by congressional statute limiting the use of funds written years ago by then-Sens. Jack Kemp and Nancy Kasten.
"While Americans have different views on the issues of abortion, I think all agree that no woman should be forced to have an abortion," he added.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Xie Feng told a news conference that China does not keep population rates down through coercion, but through encouragement.
"We hope that this decision will be changed," Xie said.
At home, critics of the decision have suggested that the Bush administration, which made Monday's decision despite the president's signing the funding measure into law in January, say the president has been coerced by conservative groups that want him to prove his anti-abortion credentials. They say it will hurt his standing with moderates and women, even though the president is currently focused on conservative groups for re-election.
Though Congress upped the aid to $34 million from the president's $25 million request last year, Bush said his agreeing to sign the measure was conditional on his being able to use discretion as to its distribution.
The fund, which helps countries deal with reproductive and sexual health, family planning and population strategy, has been the subject of U.S. and British scrutiny. Investigators, sent to China in May to make sure the fund wasn't being used for forced abortion, found no evidence the money was being used directly to end pregnancies.
"I think UNFPA does very essential work and we have made it clear that it does not go around encouraging abortions. It gives good advice to women on reproductive health and does good work around the world, including in China," said U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said.
Annan said the United Nations would try and see if other donors will step up and make up the difference.
The money that had been designated to the fund will instead be spent on child survival and health programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Boucher told reporters Monday. In all, the United States continues to fund population programs worldwide to the tune of $400 million.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.