UNFPA Annual Population Report: From Paternalism to Ventriloquism
NEW YORK, October 19 (C-Fam) Every year, the United Nations Population Fund publishes a glossy report describing how its fertility reduction approach will help solve the problems facing the world. The State of World Population 2017, published this week, is remarkable in that it doubles down on discredited metrics and only very tenuously links “reproductive rights” to solutions for global inequality.
Earlier this year, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) announced that the elimination of all “unmet need” for family planning was among its central goals. For years experts have criticized the concept of “unmet need” for family planning as paternalistic, with one epidemiologist describing it as “a need with no demand.”
UNFPA’s new report is surprising in that, instead of backing away from “unmet need,” it pressed further, calling it “unmet demand.”
At a press conference at UN headquarters in New York, reporters were less interested in the content of the report than UNFPA’s defunding by the Trump administration and the agency’s stance on the controversial issue of abortion.
When asked whether UNFPA regarded “reproductive rights” as including abortion, the editor of the new report, Richard Kollodge, responded, “UNFPA advocates for the availability of family planning to avoid unintended pregnancies with the aim of avoiding abortion.”
When pressed Kollodge reiterated the standards set in 1994 at the International Conference on Population and Development, “UNFPA does not support abortion as a method of family planning and the UNFPA position is that where abortion is legal it should be safe and where it’s not legal post-abortion care should be available to everybody to save lives.”
He added, “We do not support abortion in developing countries. Decisions about abortion are the sole domain of national governments.”
When asked about President Trump’s funding cuts to UNFPA, Kollodge said the $69 million given by the U.S. in 2016 “helped avert close to a million unintended pregnancies and avert about 2,300 maternal deaths.” This figure, first issued in response to the withdrawal, does not appear to refer to any of UNFPA’s maternal health interventions apart from preventing pregnancy in the first place by contraceptive use.
With a focus on inequities between and within countries, the State of World Population report cites a Guttmacher Institute figure that 43% of pregnancies in developing countries are unintended, yet offered no corresponding figure for developed countries. In 2012, Guttmacher published an analysis stating that 47% of pregnancies in more developed countries were unintended, compared with 39% in less developed countries.
At 35%, Africa had the lowest percentage of pregnancies classified as unintended yet Africa seems to get the lion’s share of UNFPA’s attention.
Economic and other inequality remains a much-discussed topic at both a national and international level. However, UNFPA’s framing of this issue in terms of “reproductive health and rights” in its flagship report is weakened by reliance on selective data omissions and the unfounded elevation of “need” for family planning to “demand.”
The agency is caught between donor countries pressing it to advocate for abortion and recipient States and a U.S. administration that considers UNFPA’s position too close to the abortion lobby. The United States withdrew $31 million in funding this year.