New UNFPA Annual Report Prioritizes “Reproductive Health”

Last week, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released its annual report for 2008, highlighting the organization’s work on maternal health and its "continued efforts to ensure the universal access to reproductive health and the right of all people to decide the number and timing of their children."

Though UNFPA refuses to subject its books to an independent audit and also refuses to share specific budget reporting to its board of directors, its annual report asserts that in 2008, almost half of UNFPA’s program expenses went to "reproductive health" programs, at a cost of $165.1 million, up from $146.6 million the previous year. In all five regions, more funds were spent on reproductive health initiatives than any other program.

UNFPA’s 2008 activities to help achieve "universal access to reproductive health" include family planning promotion, particularly through "securing reproductive health commodities" such as condoms. UNFPA’s report claims that its work has resulted in 80 countries having national budget lines for contraceptives and other reproductive health supplies.

UNFPA steadfastly denies its programs have anything to do with abortion and its report does not mention the word. However, critics at the UN suspect that UNFPA’s use of the phrase "maternal mortality" shows adoption of what some call the "motherhood and apple pie approach to abortion rights." By focusing on creating a new "right" to maternal health, reproductive rights advocates believe they can consolidate gains while avoiding scrutiny by abortion opponents. Then, once they are confident the new right to "maternal health" is established, they can assert the claim that abortion is part of the new right.

UNFPA continued its focus on mental health as an "integral aspect of reproductive health." UNFPA and the World Health Organization published "Mental Health Aspects of Women’s Reproductive Health: A Global Review of the Literature" which seek to forge linkages between the biological, psychological and social factors to push for "an integrated approach to mental and reproductive health." In the United States and elsewhere “mental health” has been used radically to expand abortion rights beyond cases where a mother’s physical well-being is at issue.

UNFPA’s youth advocacy includes supporting "activities that led seven countries to ratify the Ibero-American Convention on the Rights of Youth."  The Convention is a document that worries Latin American social conservatives for references to "sexual and reproductive health" as well as "sexual orientation," which they feared would be used to promote abortion and homosexuality in the region.

Even though the leadership at UNFPA has expressed support for transparency and has spoken in favor of using international accounting guidelines in response to concerns from United Nations member states, the organization has not released detailed accounting of its programs. The 2008 annual report lacks the detailed financial tables commonly found in annual corporate filings, and only provides anecdotal descriptions of agency expenditures.

While the Bush Administration withheld funding from UNFPA over the agency’s support of China’s population program, which includes forced abortions and sterilizations, the agency can look forward to a cash injection from the Obama administration in 2009. Earlier this year, the United States announced it would reinstate UNFPA funding and pledged $50 million dollars for 2009 – a figure that would put the US in the agency’s top five donor countries alongside the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

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