What cutting off US funding for the UN Population Fund means for millions of people worldwide

By Kaitlyn Denzler, Women’s Rights Campaigner

The State Department will cut off funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a vital international body that supports family planning and sexual and reproductive health in more than 150 countries — more than any other donor agency.

This really comes as no surprise. The Trump administration has been threatening to cut off funding to the UN, and this is the first step in upholding that promise. The US is the top donor for the UN, and has played a leadership role, though inconsistent, with the UNFPA since its inception in 1969. For fiscal year 2017, the US is withholding $32.5 million for the UNFPA because, according to the state department, the UNFPA “supports, or participates in the management of, a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.” The UNFPA has refuted these claims (as they have in the past), and has re-emphasized its mission to promote “the human rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination.”

The UN is not perfect, and there are many challenges that must be addressed across all UN agencies. However, cutting off UN funding, and UNFPA funding is irresponsible and will have detrimental impacts for millions of people worldwide.

Cutting off US funding for UNFPA is not new. Under Bush (and other administrations before), the US ended funding despite its erroneous claims — also refuted by the state department’s own investigation team — about UNFPA’s presence in China and despite the fact that the UNFPA argued that “the lost funding would have prevented 2 million unwanted pregnancies and the deaths of 77,000 children.”

Let’s be clear, this decision will kill people, especially women and adolescent girls.

The impact of cutting off funding during the Bush years is a recent example of what we can expect to happen now. The end of US funding will affect access to information around sexual and reproductive health, and to safe and effective methods of contraception which will in turn impact unintended pregnancies, safe delivery, and the health of babies and children. Every two minutes, a pregnant person dies during childbirth. Cutting off US funding to UNFPA does not prevent maternal mortality worldwide, and only contributes to the deaths and injuries which are entirely preventable with good care and services.

UNFPA also supports sexual and reproductive health services and programs like gender-based violence (GBV) prevention in crisis situations. In humanitarian crises maternal mortality, unintended pregnancies, child marriage, GBV, and rates of HIV infection all increase. Funding for humanitarian crises are constantly underfunded, and with the abrupt funding cut to UNFPA interventions like emergency reproductive health kits, psychosocial assistance, and medical treatment to survivors of GBV will bear the brunt of the cuts.

Ending UNFPA funding is appalling on its own, but the fact is that this act is just the latest salvo in the Trump’s administration’s relentless stream of attacks on sexual and reproductive rights. In January, Trump reinstated and expanded the global gag rule, which prohibits US funding to organizations or groups if they use non-US funding to offer abortion counseling, advocate for legal abortion reform, provide abortions, or even provide referrals at any time. These are not isolated attacks; rather, they are part of a concerted effort to make anti-abortion rights rhetoric and policies mainstream politics.

We cannot let these rollbacks and attacks continue. These policies and actions have real-life implications on millions of people worldwide, and disproportionately impact and punish low-income people, women, and youth.