WASHINGTON - The United States and other developed nations must increase their funding for international family-planning programs or women will continue to die from a lack of access to reproductive health care, officials said yesterday.
The U.S. and United Nations officials spoke at news conferences here and in London to release the U.N. Population Fund's annual report.
The report said about 500,000 maternal deaths occur each year in developing countries, where just half of all births are professionally attended.
Of the estimated 50 million abortions performed annually, it said, 20 million are unsafe and result in the deaths of 78,000 women.
One-third, or 80 million, of all pregnancies each year are believed to be unwanted or mistimed, the report said.
The UNFPA said that of the $5.7 billion a year that countries have agreed is needed for family planning programs, less than half has been made available from international sources.
The United States, among other nations, has not met its financial and moral obligation, said Margaret Pollack, director of the Office of Population for the U.S. State Department.
"The United States is the most prosperous nation on Earth, and yet it ranks eighth in international population assistance to the ratio of" gross national product, she said.
"Because we are a nation that believes in individual freedom and responsibility, we have every interest in supporting others around the world in achieving those same rights and responsibilities we ourselves enjoy."
Since 1995, Pollack said, U.S. funding for international population programs has been cut by 35 percent.
"In human terms, these funding shortfalls mean that women will continue to endure unintended pregnancies or resort to abortion, and they will continue to die as a result of their pregnancies," she said.
President Clinton has asked Congress to restore funding for these programs to their previous level in 1995 with an increase of $170 million, Pollack said.
The UNFPA has come under fire from anti-abortion groups such as the American Life League.
"Their money isn't going towards saving these women's lives, but killing their babies," said Cathy Brown, a league representative who protested the report's findings outside the U.N. Foundation yesterday.
The report, titled "Lives Together, Worlds Apart: Men and Women in a Time of Change," also documented gender disparities. It said that 2 million more African women than men suffer from HIV/AIDS, that 5,000 women and girls are murdered each year in "honor" killings and that more than 100 million women and girls are affected by female genital mutilation.
UNFPA officials said at the news conference that because of a lack of resources, organizations like theirs are unable to provide women with what they need and want.
"Our main obstacle is the fact that we often have to cut programs because of financial constraints," said Thoraya Obaid, director of the UNFPA's division for Arab states and Europe.
This is true even though UNFPA's progress has been quantitatively documented, Obaid said. For example, more than a dozen countries, including Senegal and Ghana, have passed laws banning female genital mutilation - a victory due in part to UNFPA's efforts, she said.
"I hope this [report] will help stimulate an increased financial commitment from Washington and other developed countries to help end gender inequality all around the world."