God and Men Behaving Badly

Jane Roberts

According to the United Nations Foundation, there have been over seven thousand safe births—that is, no maternal deaths—in the huge Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan for displaced Syrians. Why? Well, it’s 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 new mothers.

The new Trump administration waited only forty-eight hours before it promulgated an enhanced Global Gag Rule (GGR), which ostensibly prohibited any nongovernmental organization (NGO), whether from the United States or from a foreign country, that has the word abortion in its vocabulary from receiving any U.S. funds. Trump’s GGR obviously also targeted the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Then on April 4, President Trump invoked the Kemp-Kasten amendment to formally defund and nonsensically punish UNFPA for supposedly being complicit in China’s past coercive one-child policy. If there ever was a calumny, a bald-faced lie, this is it. (Congressman Chris Smith from New Jersey is one of the worst offenders in this regard.) UNFPA has been defunded by all Republican administrations since Ronald Reagan to satisfy believers in a certain god whom, they think, abhors abortion and finds contraception very suspect. In 2016, the Obama administration authorized $69 million for the agency, which does not, I repeat, does not carry out or promote abortions in its family planning programs.

Perhaps not surprisingly, with contempt for Trump running high and contempt for a certain kind of god running almost as high in Europe and Canada, Dutch Development Minister Lilianne Ploumen came up with the idea of a one-day “She Decides” (www.She
Decides.com) conference in Brussels. There, 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 what is sure to be a U.S. shortfall in funding for reproductive health under Trump. Conference host and Belgian Deputy Premier Alexander De Croo said the alliance of nations wanted to make sure that “the purely ideological [read “religulous,” with apologies to Bill Maher] decision of one country does not push women and girls back into the Dark Ages.”

The Trump budget punishes women both here and around the world. Reproductive health and women’s autonomy in the reproductive health-care area is perhaps the one type of humanitarian aid where religion plays an outsized role. “Goddamn-it-to-hell!” as we atheists like to say, even though the phrase is totally nonsensical. But what did I expect?

In the February/March 2013 issue of Free Inquiry, in my article “Atheism: The Last Closet,” I asked whether, if people knew I was an atheist, would they be less likely to send their dollar to 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund (www.34million
friends.org), of which I am a cofounder. I absolutely don’t know the answer. 34 Million Friends of UNFPA got its start on July 22, 2002, when then–Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that the George W. Bush administration was not going to release congressionally approved $34 million to UNFPA for—trust me—spurious politically (read “religiously”) motivated reasons. Powell had previously said that UNFPA did invaluable work in the world. In my view, Powell sold the women of the world down the river, an ironic metaphor to use in connection with an African-American man.

By October of that year, 34 Million Friends was percolating around the country and the U.S. committee, now Friends of UNFPA, was sponsoring a Family of Woman photography exhibit in the lobby of the United Nations for which I, Mavis Leno, Jean Rather (wife of Dan), and Donald Trump and others were on the honorary committee. Imagine that! Trump obviously supported UNFPA then.

But now God-fearing—huh?— Trump, like Powell before him, will sell his nonexistent soul. UNFPA will be stiffed. I knew that when the religiously fanatical Mike Pence (remember, he’s a Christian first!) was announced as vice president that Trump was going to go along with virulent antiwomen health measures. Anyone knows that the more contraception/family planning that is available, the fewer abortions there will be. UNFPA’s mandate from its governing body, which includes the United States, is charged with family planning only, not abortion. Of course, the misogynistic politics of Trump throw all facts out the window and place the United States to the far right of the entire world. In fact, more countries, including all of America’s traditional allies, contribute to UNFPA than to almost any other United Nations humanitarian agency.

My own daughter Annie, who lives in Connecticut, might well have died if she lived in a “godforsaken” rural village somewhere. On her due date, her baby, Valerie, was completely sideways in Annie’s 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 reduces worldwide maternal mortality.

UNFPA is the largest purchaser of contraceptives in the world and is, therefore, able to bargain for the lowest prices. Population Action International’s video Empty-Handed features women telling their stories of heartbreak at their unwanted pregnancies, all for the lack of contraceptive supplies.1

Besides supporting safe motherhood and family planning, UNFPA is also a worldwide champion of policies combatting gender-based violence, including gender preference for boys; unequal access to education; rape; honor killings; female genital mutilation; domestic abuse; and child marriage. What’s not to like?

And even beyond the purely humanitarian aspect that is foremost for me, gender equality is the fifth of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. You can’t have gender equality without comprehensive reproductive health-care for all women and girls. But the whole idea of gender equality is challenged by certain branches of certain religions, not to belabor a point.

One more thing: world population now stands at 7.5 billion and is going up by about eighty million a year—mostly in climate-challenged, high fertility, and poverty-stricken areas. Again, what’s not to like about the United States 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.” What’s not to like indeed?

Please glance again at my article’s title. It’s all there. And do have a look at www.34millionfriends.org, a fifteen-year-old grassroots movement asking Americans to support the adoption of a teeny-tiny foreign policy. The American people are reaching out to the women of the world.


  1. http://pai.org/videos/empty-handed-responding-to-the-demand-for-contraceptives/#

Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts, a lifelong champion of gender equality, is a retired French teacher and tennis coach. In 2002, she cofounded 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund, a grassroots movement asking millions of people for a small contribution to counter the U.S. government’s defunding of UNFPA and the women of the world it serves.