NOTE: This is a guest post from Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President of the Population Institute.
With Congress having flailed helplessly on raising the debt limit, you probably don’t need another reason to believe that Congress has lost its collective mind, but here goes.
The House State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee marked-up and passed the appropriation bill for the State Department and U.S. foreign assistance programs for FY2012. Picking up where earlier efforts to defund Planned Parenthood left off, the Subcommittee voted to reinstate the global “gag rule,” which President Obama repealed by executive order in January of 2009. The “gag rule,” originally formulated by President Reagan, bars the federal government from funding any group internationally that dares to advocate for abortion rights, a restriction that has defunded some of the leading organizations providing family planning and reproductive health services overseas.
While there are a whole catalogue of reasons why the “gag rule” makes no sense, the Subcommittee’s Ranking Member, Nita Lowey (D-NY), did a pretty good job of summing it up:
The global gag rule — which would be unconstitutional in the United States — inserts a controversial policy into private and deeply personal conversations between a woman and her healthcare provider. It muzzles doctors and nurses throughout the world who work for entities receiving any U.S. assistance — even in places were abortion is legal. In real world terms, that means an expectant mother who has walked six hours while bleeding to reach the only health clinic in the region may not get the life-saving care she needs — or even a referral. Or consider the village where the only health provider must close without U.S. assistance, denying a full range of care — including, for example, HIV screenings and treatment — to the entire local population.
The Subcommittee, of course, brushed those concerns aside in hopes of preventing abortions overseas. Never mind that the restriction has the practical effect of interrupting the provision of family planning services (i.e. contraceptives) to women in the developing world who want to avoid a pregnancy. And pay no attention to the fact that disrupting the supply of contraceptives will only increase the incidence of abortion. It’s obviously more important, in the eyes of the Subcommittee, to make a strong political statement.
But not content with just making a political statement, the Subcommittee took another step guaranteed to increase the rate of abortion: it reduced U.S. funding for international family planning programs by $154 million, a 25% cut, and eliminated all funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Both of these actions, in addition to increasing maternal and infant mortality in the developing world, would also increase the number of unwanted pregnancies, leading, of course, to more abortions, including illegal and unsafe abortions that kill women.
So what does the proposed 25% cut mean in practical terms for women in the developing world? According to the Guttmacher Institute a 25% cut in international family planning funding would result in:
- 9.4 million fewer women and couples receiving contraceptive services
- Almost 3 million more unintended pregnancies
- 1.3 million more abortions (mostly unsafe)
- 1.3 million more unplanned births
- 7,700 more maternal deaths
- Over 35,000 more orphans
Earlier this year, advocates for family planning assistance joined together in launching a petition campaign aimed at telling Congress that every woman in the world needs access to family planning and reproduction health services, and that providing those services is a “win-win” for women, their families, their communities, and the world at large. Unfortunately, this Congress appears more interested in “lose-lose” propositions.
Population Institute seeks to promote universal access to family planning information, education, and services. Through voluntary family planning, we strive to achieve a world population in balance with a healthy global environment and resource base.