Men Behaving Badly and 34 Million Friends

There have been over 7,000 safe births—i.e. deliveries with no maternal deaths—in the huge Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan for displaced Syrians. Why? Because the United Nations Population Fund is there with doctors, nurses, midwives and the wherewithal to do the job right. (And it offers contraception to the new mothers.)

UNFPA has been defunded by all Republican administrations since Ronald Reagan, and Donald Trump is no exception. In 2016, the Obama Administration authorized $69 million for the agency—which does not, I repeat, does not carry out or promote abortions in family planning programs, hence its huge support worldwide.

Perhaps not surprisingly, with contempt for Trump running high in Europe and Canada, Dutch Development Minister Lilianne Ploumen came up with the idea of a one-day SHE DECIDES conference in Brussels, at which several countries and a few philanthropists—including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an anonymous U.S. donor—pledged a total of $190 million to help make up for the U.S. shortfall for worldwide reproductive health funding under Trump. Conference host and Belgian Deputy Premier Alexander De Croo said the alliance of nations wanted to make sure that “the purely ideological decision of one country does not push women and girls back into the Dark Ages.”

In 2002, when Colin Powell, Secretary of State for George W. Bush, announced that the Bush Administration wouldn’t release the $34 million Congress had approved for UNFPA, I was furious.  I started asking 34 million Americans to contribute one dollar. That is how 34 Million Friends was born. Powell had previously said that UNFPA did invaluable work in the world. His decision in 2002 sold the women of the world down the river.

By October of that year, 34 Million Friends was percolating around the country. The U.S. Committee, now called Friends of UNFPA, was sponsoring a Family of Woman photography exhibit in the lobby of the United Nations—and I, Mavis Leno and Donald Trump, among others, were on the honorary committee. Imagine that! Trump obviously supported UNFPA then.

But now Trump, like Colin Powell before him, sold out, and UNFPA got stiffed. When the religiously fanatical Mike Pence (remember, he’s a Christian first!) was announced as Trump’s VP, it was clear that his administration would embrace the anti-woman values Pence governed by and even attempt to institute some of his virulent anti-women’s health measures at the national level.

More countries, including all of our traditional allies, contribute to UNFPA than to almost any other UN humanitarian agency. Any dumb fool knows that the more contraception and family planning is available, the fewer abortions there will be. UNFPA’s mandate from its governing body—which includes the U.S.—is that the organization is charged with family planning only, not abortion care. Of course, the misogynistic politics of Trump throw all facts out the window and place the U.S. to the far right of the entire world.

UNFPA reduces worldwide maternal mortality. My own daughter, Annie, who lives in Connecticut, might well have died if she lived in a rural village in Senegal. On her due date, her daughter Valerie was completely sideways in her womb and wasn’t going to place herself head down for all the tea in China. A simple C-Section was performed. When I went to Senegal with UNFPA in 2003, I met two women whose lives were saved by UNFPA doctors performing emergency C-Sections.

UNFPA is also the largest purchaser of contraceptives in the world and is therefore able to bargain for the lowest prices.  Population Action International’s “Empty-Handed” video campaign features women telling their stories of heartbreak at their unwanted pregnancies—all due to a lack of contraceptive supplies.

And UNFPA is also a worldwide champion of policies combatting gender-based violence, including female infanticide, unequal access to education, rape, honor killings, female genital mutilation, domestic abuse and child marriage. (And pussy-grabbing!)

Seriously: What is not to like about this work? Even beyond the purely humanitarian aspect—which is foremost for me—Gender Equality is the fifth of the Sustainable Development Goals, and you can’t have gender equality without comprehensive reproductive health for all women and girls.

One more thing. The world’s population now stands at 7.5 billion, and it’s going up by about 80 million a year—mostly in climate-challenged, high-fertility, poverty-stricken areas. Again, what is not to like about the U.S. being a positive force for planned parenthood everywhere?  UNFPA’s motto is “delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.” Is the U.S. seriously against this?

Glance again at the title. It’s all there. As Trump continues to put women and girls around the world in danger, fight back by spreading the word about 34 Million Friends, a 15-year old, still-percolating grassroots movement asking Americans to adopt their own small foreign policy.


Jane Roberts is the co-founder of 34 Millions Friends of UNFPA.