MONEY FOR international family-planning programs, whose work includes contraception and basic women's health services, has long been held hostage in Congress to the more divisive matter of abortion. Off and on since the early 1980s, and again last year, antiabortion forces in Congress have blocked any U.S. contribution to the U.N. Population Fund and other international family-planning efforts, arguing that those agencies also fund abortions and that this makes the U.S. contribution an indirect form of abortion funding. That case suffered a setback last week when the House voted to authorize $20 million for the U.N. Population Fund, up from zero last year.
The result came over strenuous opposition from Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who has led successful efforts to block funding in the past. Mr. Smith this time sought to link the population group's activities to coerced abortions in China. Opponents agreed to dock the funding by the amount the U.N. group spends on programs in China -- $5 million -- while reiterating that, in the vast majority of countries, contraception and maternal health programs cause the number of abortions to drop steeply. (To highlight the point, they sent every member of Congress a low-tech "safe childbirth kit" being distributed in distressed areas such as Kosovo.)
This isn't the first time Rep. Smith has been bested in attempts to limit broad access to contraception by blurring the distinction between it and abortion. Last year, he sought to block a rider requiring insurance coverage of birth control for federally employed women, arguing that the pill and IUD could be considered abortifacients. But he failed to prevail after a floor confrontation with Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.).
As happened then, some abortion opponents will likely try to get the money for the program removed when the embassy security bill to which it is attached goes to conference. That shouldn't be allowed to happen. Objecting to abortions is no basis for preventing the very measures that make women less likely to seek them.