Congress Shortchanges Funding for International Family Planning

In a major reversal, Congress this week rejected an increase in U.S. funding for international family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) programs. The Senate and the House of Representatives passed an appropriations package that freezes spending for those programs at current levels ($607.5 million) for the tenth year in a row.

Earlier this year the House Appropriations Committees approved a $198 million in increase in total funding, while the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an increase of $58 million. But in a stunning capitulation to the Trump administration and family planning opponents, House-Senate negotiators agreed to block any increase in FP/RH programs.  The budget negotiators agreed to significant increases in other foreign assistance categories, including global health, but not family planning.

The final budget agreement approved this week also rejected House-passed language repealing the Trump administration’s “global gag rule (GGR). The GGR originally promulgated by President Ronald Reagan in 1984–and adopted by subsequent Republican administrations—prohibited USAID from funding non-US organizations providing family planning services overseas from advocating for abortion or referring patients to abortion services. The Trump administration has vastly expanded the GGR’s reach by applying the funding prohibition to overseas providers of global health services, not just family planning services. By refusing to fund foreign organizations that advocate for abortion, the GGR forces foreign NGOs to reject US funding and that leads, in turn, to the closure of health clinics and the curtailment of medical services in developing nations.

In reacting to the news, Robert Walker, president of the Population Institute, said, “The rejection of any increase in international funding for FP/RH and the continuation of the GGR may be a victory for the Trump administration, but it is a defeat for the health and wellbeing of women and their families. They have been thrown under the “mini-bus.”