Oped: U.S. should follow Dutch model on family planning.

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The Bush administration recently announced it would permanently withhold $ 34 milion earmarked for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA). The administration claims that the UNFPA is complicit in China's continued practices of coerced abortion and sterilization, and has therefore denied funding. But this reasoning is unfounded, as a U.S. government study found in May.


Unfortunately, such a serious shortfall in donor resources for reproductive health programs will only exacerbate conditions of poverty and social injustice worldwide, particularly to the 142 countries the agency distributes funds to.

Based on the Dutch experience, I can say that U.S. reproductive health policy overseas has dangerous consequences for women around the world. It denies funding for organizations that offer safe and legal abortion and over-emphasizes abstinence education.

The $34 million the administration blocked from the UNFPA could have been enough to prevent 2 million unwanted pregnancies, nearly 800,000 induced abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths, nearly 60,000 cases of serious maternal illness and more than 77,000 infant and child deaths, estimates Thoraya Obaid, the executive director of the U.N. Population Fund. Because of its size and wealth, the United States remains the largest bilateral donor to international family-planning programs. But it ranks last out of 22 major donors in its contribution relative to gross national product. My country, by contrast, spends almost 10 times more the amount of GNP on official development assistance than does the United States.

The Netherlands has also been the leader in financial support to reproductive health and rights of women in developing countries. At this moment, approximately 6 percent of Dutch international development money is spent on reproductive health programs related to safe motherhood, family planning, prevention and treatment of unsafe abortion and of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS. These are important life-saving programs, many of which UNFPA is involved in.

We have mirrored our international development policy on our successful domestic policy. My country has the lowest teen-age pregnancy and abortion rate in the world. For every 1,000 women aged 15 to 19 in the Netherlands, there are approximately 7.7 births, compared to 49 in the United States. For this same group of 1,000 women in the Netherlands, there are 3.9 abortions; in the United States, there are 28.

We did not reach these achievements by restricting access to information and services to youth, or by denying women the right to choose abortion. In my country, we place great value on sex education in our schools. The central message is one of responsibility: That if one decides to have sex, one must learn to care for one's health, the health of one's partner and to respect each another. You might think that Dutch teens are having sex at an early age and all the time, but they are not. On average, youth in the Netherlands have first intercourse at an older age than teens in the United States.

The Dutch policy in no way promotes abortion -- it prevents it. By making contraceptive education an integral part of safe abortion services, the Netherlands has achieved some of the highest levels of contraceptive use in the world, and our abortion rates are low and still declining.
Internationally, we support contraceptive use by funding clinics that provide abortion services, knowing that the best way to prevent repeat abortions is to make sure contraceptives are distributed to women who have experienced unwanted pregnancies.

Providing women with the information, education and resources that enable them to realize their full potential should be the common goal of both the Netherlands and the United States. If we use the Dutch approach as a guide, we could see reduced abortion rates, reduced rates of unwanted pregnancies and healthier societies. If we do not, we could face a grave global health crisis with a negative impact on global stability and peace.

Ans Zwerver is a Green Party senator from The Netherlands. She is the author of "Motion for Resolution: Condemning Mexico City Policy," which was written for the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

© Ans Zwerver

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