MORE TROUBLE is brewing in Congress for international population programs. This time it is sparked by concern about coercive practices reportedly used in China to promote one-child families. That is a serious concern, and one which we share. But it should not be used as a pretext to deny wanted family-planning help to millions of needy people in developing countries where coercion is not an issue at all.
The administration has already severely disrupted many family-planning programs by refusing to award $17 million earmarked in this year's budget for the International Planned Parenthood Federation. IPPF would not agree to stop performing abortion-related services requested by other countries. The funds were cut off despite the expressed disapproval of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, despite the fact that IPPF -- like all other U.S. grantees -- is careful not to use U.S. money for any abortion-related activities, and despite the fact that the activities the administration is punishing are perfectly legal under this country's laws and those of the foreign countries involved.
Citing accounts that the Chinese government is tolerating if not promoting infanticide and coerced abortions, the administration has also held up funds for the United Nations' population programs, part of which support certain programs -- but not abortion -- in China. Because the United States is a major contributor to U.N. population programs, dozens of poor countries face a disastrous loss of family-planning assistance unless the funds are released promptly.
Efforts to restore funding to IPPF and other affected groups are under way in Congress, where committees are marking up this year's foreign aid authorization. However, some members and outside groups are fighting any effort to limit the administration's discretion to withhold funding. Some of these groups object to funding for any type of contraception except so-called "natural" methods. But a potentially broader source of opposition comes from members who worry that a vote for continuing U.S. population aid might somehow be taken as condoning such practices as infanticide and forced abortions.
Feelings about abortion -- and especially about involuntary abortion or infanticide -- understandably run high. But no one is talking about condoning, least of all sponsoring, coercive programs in China or anywhere else. What is being proposed is to continue, and preferably to expand, humane efforts to allow some of the poorest people in the world to make the identical family-planning choice that almost every family in this country takes for granted: to have the number of children it feels it can best care for.