January 28, 2009 / 9:08 AM / 9 years ago

UN family planning agency looks to new US funding

By Patrick Worsnip

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 27 (Reuters) - The U.N. family planning agency could see the United States pay at least 10 percent of its budget following U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to restore funding, the agency’s head said on Tuesday.

Obama announced the decision on Friday, reversing a policy of his predecessor George W. Bush, who banned U.S. government funding for family planning services by clinics or groups that offered abortion services or counseling in other countries.

The U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) says its does not promote or support abortion. But Bush ended funding for it in 2002, saying it supported a one-child-per-family policy in China that was carried out partly through enforced abortions. UNFPA denied that it did so.

UNFPA executive director Thoraya Obaid said Obama’s action would "provide support to women in the poorest countries of the world."

She told a news conference that discussions in the U.S. Congress for proposed funding to UNFPA ranged between $40 million and $60 million per year. The agency has a core budget of some $430 million and the largest contributor since the United States stopped funding has been the Netherlands.

UNFPA says Bush’s annual blocking of funding that had been approved by Congress cost the agency a total of $244 million. In most years, Congress approved $34 million.

Agency officials said that money could have prevented 2 million unwanted pregnancies and nearly 800,000 abortions each year through family planning programs. It also would have prevented maternal deaths and illnesses and helped fund information campaigns and condoms to combat AIDS.

Obaid said the death rate from pregnancy and childbirth had declined by just 1 percent worldwide between 1990 and 2005. Progress on maternal health was the least advanced of any of the eight Millennium Development Goals laid out by the United Nations in 2000 for achievement by 2015.

UNFPA says its programs in 154 countries promote family planning through effective contraception and counseling, prenatal and obstetric care for all pregnant women and prevention of sexually transmitted infections. It also campaigns against fistula, a childbirth injury.

"We welcome the opportunity to work with the United States again as a full partner," Obaid said. (Editing by Xavier Briand)

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