House, Senate Allocate Record-Level Funds for International Family Planning

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House, Senate Allocate Record-Level Funds for International Family Planning

Emily Douglas

A House Subcommittee and Senate Committee both appropriated record-level funding for international family planning and for UNFPA, and each adopts a policy provision that ensures UNFPA funding regardless of whether the President wants to block the agency's funds.

For each of President Bush’s seven years in office, the United
States has refused to pay $43 million in dues
each year to the UN’s agency focusing on population and family planning, UNFPA.
to the advocacy group Americans for UNFPA
, had the U.S. honored
its obligations to UNFPA, its contributions could have prevented 294,000
maternal deaths and would have allowed 82 million women to delay pregnancy. This year, Congress authorized the $43 million, only to see Bush
block funds to the program again.

But winds have shifted.
Wednesday, the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee,
under the leadership of Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), passed a bill allocating $600
million for family planning and reproductive health services, marking the
largest ever appropriation for family planning (not accounting for inflation). It is
the largest one-year increase in such programs on record, nearly doubling
Bush’s request of $327.5 million, says Tod Preston of Population Action
International. Sixty million dollars in funding is appropriated for UNFPA; the
remaining $540 million will support USAID.

But the good news doesn’t stop there. The Bush Administration has long justified its
opposition to funding UNFPA by claiming that the organization collaborates
with coercive sterilization and abortion programs in China, despite repeated studies,
including a 2002 State Department investigation, showing no UNFPA involvement
in coercive activity. In fact,
investigators found that UNFPA was helping China make the transition to voluntary
family planning programs. But even if the next President makes the same
determination that Bush has, Lowey’s bill would ensure that funds go to UNFPA
anyway. How?

The Kemp-Kasten amendment obliges the
President to determine annually whether UNFPA is eligible for the funds earmarked
for the agency. If the next President
determines that UNFPA is in violation of Kemp-Kasten,
U.S. dues still
go to UNFPA, but would support only specifically-identified UNFPA
activities. Here’s where the bill gets clever:
those specified activities, explains the Guttmacher Institute’s Susan Cohen,
comprise the core of UNFPA’s work; in fact "there isn’t much that UNFPA does
that isn’t in the text," she says. The provision highlights what UNFPA
actually does, and forces opponents to answer the question, in Cohen’s words,
"What in this list do you not like?"

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The activities specified are:

  • Provision of supplies to
    ensure safe childbirth and emergency obstetric care;
  • Provision of contraceptives
    to prevent unintended pregnancies and the spread of disease;
  • Prevention and treatment of
    obstetric fistula;
  • Reestablishment of maternal
    health services in regions devastated by natural disasters and armed
  • Promotion of access to vital
    services, including water, food and health care, for vulnerable
    populations; and
  • Efforts to end harmful traditional
    practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage.


Cohen is unsparing in her praise for Lowey’s efforts on this

Chairwoman Nita Lowey has always been a passionate advocate for women’s
rights and health-both at home and globally. Yesterday, she demonstrated
her deep commitment and remarkable leadership once again. In winning
approval for the single largest increase in U.S. funding for reproductive
health programs globally–which would mean a new all-time high in the United
States financial commitment to these programs around the world–Rep. Lowey has
put the United States one step closer to making an even greater difference in
improving women’s health and saving women’s lives.

Yesterday’s Senate Appropriations Committee’s markup of the Senate version of the bill called for a $475 million appropriation for
USAID’s family planning program, $45 million for UNFPA and the same policy
language as is in Lowey’s proposal regarding Kemp-Kasten determination. Though
the Senate’s version appropriates slightly less in dollars for UNFPA and USAID,
it, too, broke new ground in adopting language derived from a
previously-introduced Senate bill that would negate the global gag rule. The
Senate bill passed committee 28-1, with Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) the only vote

It’s doubtful that the either the House or the Senate will
enact a foreign aid appropriations bill before a new administration takes
office; both bodies are more likely to enact continuing resolutions that would maintain
current funding levels until March of 2009.
But at that point, this bill will be the starting point for House
negotiations on foreign aid. "Lowey and [Senate
Appropriations Committee Chair Senator Patrick] Leahy have staked the ground they
want to go to for next year," says Cohen.

Of course, if a President friendly to UNFPA takes office, he’s likely
not to make the determination that UNFPA is in violation of Kemp-Kasten,
rendering the language that ensures funding of specific UNFPA activities
regardless of Presidential determination moot.
But keeping that language in the bill is critical for the
long-term promotion of international family planning: it can pre-emptively
address problems hostile administrations could cause years down the road.