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The best sign of character is how a person responds to adversity. Two wonderful women exemplify this. Congress voted money to support the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), but President Bush has impounded the funding four years in a row.

Responding to this obstacle, Lois Abraham and Jane Roberts proposed private funding to restore the shortfall. Until a few years ago they had not known each other. Each was appalled by our president’s action, and each wrote friends asking for donations to UNFPA. They suggested that thirty-four million individuals could each send one dollar to make up the $34 million deficit. The 34 Million Friends Campaign was established by the US Committee for UNFPA. Since then, Lois and Jane have become friends and have worked tirelessly to support international family planning.

Why would Bush stop payment of the UNFPA assessment? He maintained that some of the money was used for coerced abortions in China. This was despite his own staff reporting that no UNFPA money was used to support abortion services. Most likely he took this action to appease right wing supporters.

What is the effect of not paying this money? Without UNFPA’s vital programs, it has been estimated that two and three-quarters MILLION women will be deprived of modern contraception. This projects to 1,300,000 unintended pregnancies each year, over a half million unsafe abortions, and an estimated 645,840 unwanted births. Worse, thousands of women and children will die because of Bush’s denial of the funding. Unplanned pregnancies are often spaced too closely, jeopardizing the mother and all of her children.

Ironically, Bush’s action has actually increased the number of abortions! Women take chances with unsafe abortions because of the large number of unplanned pregnancies.

With our population and consumption already out of control, it is obvious that the world does not need this many unwanted births. The additional unplanned babies will stress their parents, as well as stressing our overburdened planet.

Fortunately, several countries stepped up to help out. Members of the European Union, New Zealand and other countries have contributed much of the support that the United States had reneged on.

The 34 Million Friends Campaign serves two purposes. Part is to get the money that UNFPA deserves and needs. The campaign serves another important function, too. It has also raised awareness of the United Nations family planning program.

To find out more about the good work of UNFPA, go to www.unfpa.org. The Campaign also has its own site, www.34millionfriends.org. You can get an update, including the amount contributed (well over three million dollars!) Of course, there are instructions to make a donation. For those who don’t have access to the Internet, send a tax-deductible contribution to: The US Committee for UNFPA Processing Center, 34 Million Friends of UNFPA, PO Box 681, Toms River, NJ 08754-9922

How has the money been spent? It has gone to poor countries to make pregnancy and childbirth safer by training midwives, and paid for equipment to deal with obstetrical emergencies. It has supported programs to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. It has paid for family planning commodities.

A large part of the money has been used for surgery for women with obstetric fistulas. These unfortunates are usually teens who conceived their first child too young. Living in areas without adequate medical care or the ability to save babies by cesarean section, these women suffer terrible pain when they are in labor—often for days on end. Their babies are often born dead. The pressure of the fetal skull strangulates maternal tissues, leaving a fistula—an abnormal hole. The young victims cannot control their bowels or bladder. Shame, President Bush, that you withheld help for treating such a heartrending condition!

I applaud Jane Roberts and Lois Abraham, women of fine character, for taking positive steps to help world population efforts. They have received much deserved recognition for their hard work. Please join me in sending in dollars of support!

© Richard Grossman MD, 2006