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It’s Time to Rally Grass Roots to Fund the UN Population Fund Again

Larysa Ziobina, head of the newborn department at Kramatorsk maternity center, in Donetsk, Ukraine, said that since the war began, more women who come to the clinic are at risk of miscarriage and more newborns need intensive care. PHOTO COURTESY OF UNFPA

Imagine yourself a pregnant woman in Syria making her way on foot to a refugee camp when suddenly you go into labor. The United Nations Population Fund is there to save you and your baby’s life. That is what UNFPA does. I have seen their work on site in Mali and in Senegal.

President Trump has signed an executive order that says the United States will stop funding any foreign or international organization that promotes “the performance of abortion or sterilization as a method of family planning.” Even counseling or providing information on abortion would trigger a loss of US government contributions. Obviously, one target is the UN Population Fund, which, if truth be told, firmly rejects abortion as a method of family planning but promotes safe motherhood and access to a choice of contraceptives and gender equality, while also battling gender-based violence and AIDS.

This global gag rule, first enunciated through a policy announced in Mexico City at a UN population conference in 1984 by the Reagan administration, is part and parcel of Trump’s broad assault on the UN.

On July 22, 2002, when President George W. Bush canceled a contribution of $34 million to UNFPA, I was mad, really mad. As a retired French-language teacher and tennis coach in Redlands, Calif., I decided to ask 34 million people to take a stand for the women of the world with a donation of one dollar each. Lois Abraham had the same idea, and we became partners. This became a moderately successful grass-roots movement to which I gave my all. It made hundreds of thousands of people aware of UNFPA and its humanitarian work, and 34 Million Friends, www.34millionfriends.org, has garnered to date a lovely $4.3 million.

With envelopes pouring in to support the Population Fund, the agency invited Lois and me to New York in October 2002 to meet us two “crazy ladies” and present us at a press briefing. It so happened that during that same month, the agency’s US Committee (now called Friends of UNFPA) was sponsoring a Family of Woman exhibition in the lobby of the UN.

I was a member of the honorary committee for this exhibition, as was — guess who — Donald Trump. Doesn’t it stand to reason, then, that Trump fully supported UNFPA at the time and allowed his name to be used in conjunction with the one US organization raising money and awareness for the just-defunded UN Population Fund?

Now as president, Trump is clearly going to stiff the UN agency of US support, thereby restricting vulnerable women’s access to health and autonomy in making reproductive choices.

Ever since the election of Trump, I have labored over my plan to reinvigorate 34 Million Friends. I’m spending hours printing out my “contacts” documents and going through my 15 notebooks that summarize all my past travels and media appearances. People will say that political organizing should come before money-raising but I want people to do both. I’m thinking of asking individuals for $34 each this time, which would help train a midwife or buy contraceptive supplies. The women of the world have it tough, and the US under Trump has now made it tougher.

We the people can step into the breach. I, for one, deeply appreciate the hugely beneficial humanitarian function and work of the UN, and particularly the UN Population Fund, in our complex, difficult world.

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