USAID Halts Supply of Contraceptives to Marie Stopes in Six African Countries

Emily Douglas

The US government has ordered the six African nations to halt the supply of USAID-provided contraceptives and services to the international reproductive health organization Marie Stopes International.

The US
government has ordered the six African nations to halt the supply of
USAID-provided contraceptives to the international reproductive
health organization Marie Stopes International (MSI), on the grounds that MSI works
with the Chinese government, whom the US State Department accuses of "coercive abortion and involuntary
sterilizations."

The USAID mandate will affect contraceptive services in Ghana, Malawi,
Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda
and Zimbabwe.  MSI is a major distributor of contraceptive
supplies and family planning services in those countries. "At a time when world governments have
pledged to increase their commitment to improving the health of women, only the
Bush Administration could find logic in the idea that they can somehow reduce
abortion and promote choice for women in China by causing more abortion and
gutting choice for women in Africa," Dana Hovig, MSI chief executive
said in a statement. "This senseless
decision is likely to have only one clear consequence: the death of African
women and girls. And the Bush Administration should answer for that."

MSI firmly maintains that the organization does not support
coercive abortion or sterilization in China.

President Bush relies on the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which
stipulates that the US
government may not provide funding to organizations known to provide coercive
abortion or involuntary sterilization, to excuse his refusal to fulfill the US’s
obligation of $34 million in funding annually to UNFPA.  (Bush’s own State Department found no evidence
that UNFPA was involved in any involuntary family planning programs in China.)  In June, Population Action International’s Craig
Lasher warned Rewire readers
that the Bush administration was
considering using Kemp-Kasten to withhold funds from other organizations who
work in China.
Lasher called attention to a statement
made by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, "During the course of our
evaluation of UNFPA’s work, we learned of other organizations that conduct
activities in China.
The relevant funding agencies are conducting a comprehensive analysis to
determine what appropriate and lawful actions can be taken.
"

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Apparently, Negroponte wasn’t kidding. More information will be added as soon as we have it.

Obama Reverses Bush Ban On Contraceptive Supplies to Leading Int’l Family Planning Organization

Jodi Jacobson

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) today reversed a Bush Administration policy to block African governments from providing U.S.-funded contraceptive commodities to Marie Stopes International (MSI), one of the world’s leading family planning organisations.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) today reversed a Bush Administration policy to block African governments from providing U.S.-funded contraceptive commodities to Marie Stopes International (MSI), one of the world’s leading family planning organisations.  Restoring U.S. support will allow women to exercise their basic human rights while helping them avoid unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions and reduce the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

The ban imposed by Bush as part of a full-on attack on women’s access to contraception worldwide disrupted MSI operations in six of the affected countries – Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe – including some where MSI delivers nearly a third of all family planning services nationally.

According to MSI chief executive Dana Hovig: 

“Today’s policy reversal is the latest example of the Obama Administration’s commitment to put people before politics [and] a sign of [it’s] determination to return science to the heart of US public health policy.”

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Hovig noted that lack of access to modern contraception contributes to the deaths each year of more than half a million women – or 1,500 per day – from pregnancy-related causes.  

Nearly one in four women in sub-Saharan Africa express a need for family planning services but do not have access.  Hovig states: 

“There has been clear evidence over many years that voluntary access to contraception is one of the best ways to reduce the number of maternal deaths in Africa, including those from unsafe abortions.  Research has shown that for every 100 IUDs made available to our programmes as a result of this decision, we will avert nearly 315 unwanted pregnancies, 45 unsafe abortions and two maternal deaths.”

The Bush Administration justified its September 2008 policy by falsely accusing MSI of being complicit in “coercive abortion and involuntary sterilizations” through its role as implementing partner to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in China.

Globally, MSI manages sexual and reproductive health programmes in 43
countries. In 2008 alone, MSI programmes protected the equivalent of 13
million couples from unwanted pregnancy, a 40% increase over 2006 and
the single largest two-year growth in the organisation’s 32 year
history. A majority of MSI’s family planning efforts are in rural,
underserved areas where women are particularly vulnerable and lives are
most at risk from unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion.

VIDEO: Wicker Amendment Fails: US Funding for UNFPA Will be Restored

Jodi Jacobson

Last night sane heads prevailed and the Senate voted to defeat the Wicker Amendment to the omnibus bill that would once again have limited US funding for the United Nations Population Fund. The vote was 55 to 39 against the amendment.

Last night sane heads prevailed and the Senate voted to defeat the Wicker Amendment to the omnibus bill that could once again have been used to limit US funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).  The vote was 55 to 39 against the amendment.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) lead the effort to defeat the Wicker amendment.

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont defends the work of the UNFPA in a speech against the Wicker amendment on Thursday.

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The Omnibus bill includes $50 million for UNFPA, an organization that seeks to improve access to basic family planning services, including contraception to help women avoid unintended pregnancy, and essential maternal health, pre- and post-natal care, and emergency obstetric care aimed at reducing maternal and infant mortality.  Deaths due to complications of pregnancy and unsafe abortion remain leading killers of women in many countries of the world.  UNFPA is an essential partner in efforts to reduce the high rates of death among women and the toll such deaths take on families and communities.

US funding for UNFPA had become a political football during the Bush Administration, and was held up by baseless charges that the organization contributed to abuses under China’s one-child family policy.  No credible evidence has ever been found to prove this charge.  To the contrary, a Bush-appointed State Department team stated:

"We find no evidence that UNFPA has knowingly supported
or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or
involuntary sterilization in the PRC.
"

The same team recommended that funds be restored
to UNFPA.  But ideological and political decisions once again
prevailed, and the US continued to refuse to make a contribution to
UNFPA throughout the last Administration, despite the findings of its own team.

As we wrote earlier this
week
, the HR 1105 contained langauge intending to restore funding to
UNFPA. To immunize UNFPA against future political attacks such as occured under Bush, the Omnibus would provide funding for
UNFPA for specific activities, including:

  • providing and distributing equipment, medicine, and supplies,
    including safe delivery kits and hygiene kits to ensure safe
    childbirth and emergency obstetric care;
  • making available supplies of contraceptives for the
    prevention of unintended pregnancies and the spread of sexually
    transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS;
  • reestablishing maternal health services in areas where
    medical infrastructure and such services have been destroyed or limited
    by natural disasters, armed conflict, or other factors; and
  • promoting access to basic services, including clean
    water, sanitation facilities, food, and health care, for poor women and
    girls.

 

The bill notes clearly that none of these activities could be used to fund programs in China.

UNFPA does not fund, provide or support abortion services anywhere.

For these and other reasons, Senator Leahy argued that the Wicker amendment was unnecessary because the law already prohibits funding of programs that engage in coercive abortion (which UNFPA does not), stating:

"Why we would want to prohibit funds to save the lives of women who could otherwise die or be debilitated the rest of their lives I cannot understand.  There are none of us here who would hesistate for a moment to provide funds to help a woman in our family who might be in this condition but this amendment does just that."

Thankfully, leaders like Senator Leahy are still willing to stand up for evidence, for women’s rights, and for the restoration of sane and commonsense approaches to promoting women’s health.  The difference now is that he and others have sufficient votes to prevail.

 

 

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