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The Senate Appropriations Committee this week approved a State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012 that would provide $700 million for international family planning assistance, including $40 million for the United Nations Population Fund. The Senate action would boost funding by $85 million over this year’s appropriation level ($615 million), but a House Appropriations Subcommittee last month approved only $461 million, a 25 percent cut in funding.
The Senate Committee’s action sets up a budget battle with the House that will have to be resolved through upcoming House-Senate negotiations. The new fiscal year begins on October 1, but neither the House nor the Senate is expected to complete action on the State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill by that date. Congress in the next few days is expected to pass a “continuing resolution” that will provide temporary funding for federal programs until agreement can be reached on a final “omnibus” appropriation bill for next year.
Robert Walker, Executive Vice President of the Population Institute, said, “A lot is at stake here. If Congress accepts the 25 percent cut being proposed in the House, nearly 10 million women in the developing world would be denied access to family planning services. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that would result in 3 million unintended pregnancies and 7,700 maternal deaths.”
Walker warned that funding is not the only issue to be resolved in upcoming House-Senate negotiations. “The House bill would also re-impose the ‘global gag rule’ that President Obama repealed by executive order during his first month in office.” The global gag rule prevents foreign organizations receiving U.S. family planning assistance from using their own non-U.S. funds to perform abortions, refer patients for an abortion or even provide counseling on abortion as an available option in countries where abortion is legal, and it prevents them from advocating for its legalization in countries where it is not. The Senate bill would permanently repeal the gag rule.
Re-imposition of the ‘gag rule,’ Walker warned, “would have a devastating impact on the delivery of family planning services in the developing world and would lead to an increase in abortions, not a decline. The best way to reduce the incidence of abortion is to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and that means providing better access to contraceptives, not less.”