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Battle Lines Drawn on International Family Planning Aid

July 25, 2013

Once again the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have taken diametrically opposed positions on international family planning assistance.  It is a tale of two radically-different measures.  The House version of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill would drastically slash international family planning funding, prohibit funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and re-impose the global gag rule that prevents family planning providers from counseling or advocating for safe abortions. The Senate version of the bill would increase funding for international family planning, fully fund UNFPA, and would permanently repeal the global gag rule.

The full House Appropriations Committee yesterday approved an appropriations bill that places a ceiling on international family planning funding at the FY2008 level of $461 million dollars, which is a reduction of about 23 percent from current funding levels. During the mark-up family planning champions offered three amendments standing up for women and women’s health.   All, unfortunately, were defeated.

The first amendment, offered by Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY), would block the re-imposition of the global gag rule, and would allow a U.S. contribution of $37 million to UNFPA. Next Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) offered an amendment that would allow $37 million in funding to UNFPA for nine specific programs or activities:  expanding contraceptive supplies; safe childbirth and emergency obstetric care; elimination of coercive practices; reduction of gender discrimination, including sex selection; prevention and treatment of obstetric fistula; combating female genital mutilation; re-establishing maternal health services in areas affected by disasters and conflict; protecting women and their access to vital services in humanitarian settings; and eliminating child marriage. The third amendment, offered by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), would fund UNFPA $37 for family planning and contraceptive supplies in low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa where USAID does not provide family planning assistance.  All three amendments were defeated on largely party line votes with all Democrats on committee and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) voting in favor of the three amendments.

Today the full Senate Appropriations Committee approved their version of the State and Foreign Operations bill. The Senate bill includes $669.5 million for international family planning including $39.5 million for UNFPA. During the markup Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) offered an amendment that would permanently repeal the global gag rule.  The amendment passed with all Democrats and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) voting in favor of the amendment.

The two bills present dramatically different futures for women around the world. If the House version of the bill were to prevail over the Senate version:

  • More than 10.8 million women and couples would lose access to contraceptive services and supplies;
  • There would be 3.1 million more unintended pregnancies, including 1.5 million more unplanned births;
  • 1.5 million more abortions would take place (of which 1 million would be unsafe);
  • 8,320 more maternal deaths would occur; and
  • 41,600 more children would lose their mothers.

Robert Walker, president of the Population Institute, said, “The battle lines have been drawn and the stakes for women in the developing world could not be higher.  It may take months for the two Houses to reach a compromise on this issue, but now is the time for advocates of family planning and reproductive health to make their voices heard.”

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