AUSTIN, Texas -- As all the Miss Witherspoons of our lives used to call in those clear, fluty tones, "Attention, girls!" Heads up, women, we've got problems.

The latest in a long line of anti-woman decisions by the Bush administration is, for once, getting some attention, in part because of the sheer cheapness of the move.

President Bush has decided not to send the $34 million approved by both houses of Congress for the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA). The fund provides contraception, family planning and safe births, and works against the spread of HIV and against female genital mutilation in the poorest countries of the world. Thirty-four million dollars goes a long way in the parts of the world where over 600,000 women die every year from pregnancy and childbirth, many of them children themselves.

Of course, our poor government is so broke it can't afford to waste $34 million on women in poor countries. It has more important things to do, like spending $100 million on "promoting marriage." (I'm in favor of recycling old Nike ads for this one: "Marriage. Just do it.")

Two women -- Jane Roberts, a retired teacher in California, and Lois Abraham, a lawyer in New Mexico -- have started a splendid symbolic protest, and it is spreading by email, fax, newsletters and all kinds of women's groups. The organizers are looking for "34 million Friends of UNFPA" to send $1 each to the United Nations (FPA) at 220 East 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10017.

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, director of the UNFPA, said the $34 million U.S. contribution would have helped prevent 2 million unwanted pregnancies, 800,000 induced abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths, and 77,000 infant and child deaths. We don't have $34 million to save the lives of poor women, but President Bush wants to spend $135 million on abstinence education, which doesn't work worth a damn.

According to that fountain of misinformation, the Rev. Jerry Falwell: "This announcement angered school sex educators, who concentrate on teaching our nation's students that they should explore their sexuality and ignore the consequences. But Mr. Bush said government can teach children how to exhibit sexual control."

Actually, sex education is entirely about the consequences of "exploring sexuality," and it works. The Guttmacher Institute published a report last week showing that the abortion rate is down by 11 percent in this country precisely because young people are now getting more education about sex. One would think the anti-abortion forces would be grateful.

Instead, there is every indication that in addition to taking away a woman's right to choose whether to have an abortion, the Bush administration is going after contraception, as well. Bush's first action on his first day as president was to reinstitute the global "gag rule" that no foreign aid can go to any women's clinic abroad that that mentions the word abortion, even when the life of the mother is at stake. Now he wants to make W. David Hager chairman of the Food and Drug Administration's panel on women's health policy. Hager is an ob-gyn from Kentucky who wants the FDA to reverse its approval of RU-486, the so-called "abortion pill."

Although Hager is the editor of a book that includes the essay "Using the Birth Control Pill is Ethically Unacceptable," he told Maureen Dowd of The New York times he does not agree with the essay. Then why include it? He does not prescribe contraceptives for single women, does not do abortions, will not prescribe RU-486 and will not insert IUDs. Hager also believes headaches, PMS and eating disorders can be cured by reading Scripture. I do not want this man in charge of my health policy.

It took almost all of human history for the population of the globe to reach 1 billion in people in 1800. It took only from 1987 to 1999 for world population to grow from 5 billion to 6 billion. At current rates, we will reach 13 billion by the middle of the 21st century. Ninety-five percent of this growth will be in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Studies estimate that by 2025, two out of every three people on Earth will live in water-stressed conditions. The stress on global resources is already apparent. The National Wildlife Federation points to severe deforestation, habitat fragmentation, species extinction, water scarcity, climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution. Eighty percent of the original forest is gone or degraded. The grim toll on the Earth's resources goes on and on.

While we spend trillions of dollars on weapons, the military and homeland security, the real threats -- water scarcity, climate change and population growth -- advance unchecked. Of course, you would know more about all this if the media weren't so busy wasting hours of time on rank speculation about the Maryland sniper. Crime doesn't pay, but it sells.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2002 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.