After a seven-year hiatus from
contributing to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United
States is in the process of making approximately $50 million in funding
available to the organization.
Now, with the enactment of
the fiscal year 2009 appropriations bill, it appears that the first
U.S. contribution to UNFPA will arrive just as experts from around the
world prepare to gather at the United Nations for a global review of
population and development priorities. The review, an annual meeting
of the Commission on Population and Development, will take place on
March 30-April 3 in New York City. It is the first of several United
Nations events that will mark the 15th anniversary of the International
Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994.
In 2000, an even larger group
of countries, including the United States, reaffirmed this commitment
by signing on to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While the
United States has honored parts of that pledge, largely through the
efforts of the U.S. Agency for International Development, it has fallen far behind other developed countries’ investments
in the developing world. In fact, among developed countries, the United
States is tied for last place in the percentage of gross national income
it devotes to foreign assistance.
Reinstating funding for UNFPA
and rescinding the anti-family planning "global gag rule" are excellent first
steps by the Obama
administration to make up for ground the United States has lost over
the past decade. But much more remains to be done to restore U.S. leadership
on global sexual and reproductive health issues. With "Cairo plus
15" as a central theme, the upcoming United Nations meeting is a prime
opportunity for the United States to reassert its commitment to fulfilling
the promises made in 1994.
As part of the proceedings,
the Guttmacher Institute and UNFPA will convene representatives from
the British, Norwegian and U.S. international aid agencies in a parallel
session to discuss priorities in funding for population and development.
The panelists will also explore how the donor agencies can work together
to maximize investments in global sexual and reproductive health.
Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.
“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote theNew York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”
“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”
Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equality; declaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.
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Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”
Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.
But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:
Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations
Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:
We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.
Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:
We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.
The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.
Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.
Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”
Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt
In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:
We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.
The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewireexplained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:
As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”
All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”
Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain
The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:
Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.
Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.
Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.
Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”
In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:
Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.
Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”
There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”
As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.
Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”
Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:
We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.
Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.
“It is particularly foolish to target Title X at a time when the nation is at the precipice of a public health emergency resulting from the Zika virus,” National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association President and CEO Clare Coleman said in the group’s response.
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are once again using the appropriations process to target Title X federal family planning services for low-income people.
House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY) touted how the fiscal year 2017 Labor, Health, and Human Services (LHHS) funding bill would gut what he called a “controversial” federal program. To the contrary, many low-income people in the United States regard Title X as their only means to obtain critical health care, including family planning services, contraception, well-woman visits, cancer screenings, sexually transmitted infections screenings, and other preventive services.
Title X grants serve a highly vulnerable population—more than 90 percent women, nearly three-fifths people of color, and mostly uninsured or young, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) 2014 family planning annual report.The grants go to a network of more than 4,100 health and community service agencies. Centers that are funded by Title X are “particularly good” at providing women with the most effective contraceptive methods, like intrauterine devices and implants, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Nevertheless, the draft bill would eliminate $286 million from Title X and another $108 million for federal Teen Pregnancy Prevention grants, according to a spokesperson for Appropriations Committee Democrats.
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Democrats will “raise strong objections” at Thursday’s subcommittee markup of the bill and again at next week’s planned full committee markup, the spokesperson told Rewire in an email.
If precedent holds, their voices will be heard. Republicans unsuccessfully targeted Title X funding in last year’s LHHS funding bill. The latest bid marks the fifth attempt to do so in seven years, according to a statement from the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA). Yet, none of the proposed eliminations have ever been enacted into law, said the spokesperson for Appropriations Committee Democrats.
“Republicans need Democratic votes in Congress and the signature of a Democratic president in order to enact [a]ppropriations law, and Democrats will not vote for bills that contain divisive, poison pill riders and eliminations like this, which target women’s reproductive rights,” he said.
A spokesperson for Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), chair of the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the bill and a vocal reproductive health care foe who recently targeted AmeriCorps’ questionable abortion controversy, did not return Rewire’s request for comment; nor did a spokesperson for Rogers.
Title X funds can’t be used for abortion care. But because about a quarter of the funds go to Planned Parenthood affiliates, anti-choice Republicans have used Title X as a political football for years, starting in 2011 when the GOP threatened a government shutdown over the issue.
“It is particularly foolish to target Title X at a time when the nation is at the precipice of a public health emergency resulting from the Zika virus,” NFPRHA President and CEO Clare Coleman said in the group’s response. “For the House to propose defunding the very provider network that is being called upon to address and control the risk to women who may be seeking to prevent pregnancy is absurd.”