UNFPA Latest Victim of House Republican War on Women

Janine Kossen

Republicans voted eleven separate times this week to block funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). That's right, eleven separate times in the span of just three hours.

Well, they’re at it again. Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are using smoke and mirrors to try to distract us all from their real intentions of being the most anti-woman, anti-life crusaders the U.S. Congress has seen in decades. But, we’re not falling for their thinly-veiled hypocrisy. And neither should the U.S. public.

Republicans voted eleven separate times earlier this week to block funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). That’s right, eleven separate times in the span of just three hours. What exactly were they voting against? For starters, they voted against continued funding for prevention and treatment of obstetric fistula, a debilitating condition that results from obstructed and prolonged labor and leaves women shunned by their families and their communities. Who could possibly vote to continue the needless suffering of such women? How about Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who has made it his mantra to prevent and treat this exact condition? Yes, that’s right, the very man who never shies away from taking credit for the creation of USAID’s obstetric fistula program voted against support for this same service. But, he wasn’t the only one—all Republicans on the committee voted against funding for the prevention and treatment of obstetric fistula.

Then there are the Republicans who voted against continued reproductive health care in the aftermath of natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami in Southeast Asia. And the Republicans who voted against funding for programs that help survivors of gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo where rape is a part of everyday life for millions of women and girls. How about the Republicans who voted against efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation, a horrific practice that robs young girls of their dignity and their genitalia? And, of course, there are the Republicans who voted against continued funding of UNFPA’s efforts to prevent forced marriage of girls, some of whom are as young as four, if not younger, when they are promised in marriage to much older men. Sadly, in every one of these instances, every single Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee chose to vote against women, against girls, and against services that could save their lives. How one can claim the pro-life mantle while simultaneously voting against continued funding for life-saving health services is beyond me. But, that’s exactly what the Republicans did. And they did it eleven times over.

But, let’s be real. The committee’s approval of a bill to defund UNFPA (H.R. 2059), on a strict party-line vote of 23-17 no less, was never about women or about girls or even about protecting life. It was about scoring political points in a politically motivated smear campaign against UNFPA, which provides essential reproductive health services for women, men, and young people in 150 countries worldwide. When pressed, Republicans wholeheartedly admitted that UNFPA does amazing work that improves women’s and children’s lives around the globe. But, they say that cannot excuse the fact that UNFPA works in China and, therefore, must be, as a matter of fact, supporting China’s one-child policy. What they fail to produce is any evidence, any evidence at all, that this is true. And that’s because there isn’t any. Period. But, that didn’t stop committee members from continuing to make unsubstantiated claims throughout the entire three-hour debate. Time and time again, they cited a 2008 State Department report that claimed UNFPA was complicit in the Chinese government’s coercive population control program. They conveniently forgot to mention a more recent 2009 State Department report that found the exact opposite.

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No problem because there’s always the old “guilt by association” tactic. Yes, that’s right, the fact that UNFPA operates in some of the same counties where the Chinese one-child policy operates is enough to prove complicity, at least according to Republicans on the committee. Several Democratic members on the committee, including Ranking Member Howard Berman (CA) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (VA), tested the Republican consistency on that front as well. They argued that if guilt by association is the way we should be making policy, then shouldn’t we also be holding US corporations that operate in China culpable in China’s one-child policy? And what about tourists who travel to China; are they complicit as well since they also spend money in those same counties? Or how about holding the entire US government culpable because, after all, we provide export subsidies to China and provide China with most favored nation trading status? Selectively applying arguments only when it suits your ideology is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and unfortunately, we see it all too often in Washington these days.

The other trick we see all too often in Washington is the good ol’ fungibility argument. You know, this is the popular one that Republicans have used on the domestic front to try to defund Planned Parenthood. They say that even though no US funding for UNFPA is spent in China (due to existing congressional restrictions), the very fact that US funding goes to support UNFPA in the other 149 countries in which it operates, allows funding to be freed up to support China’s abhorrent practices. If that reasoning held true, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) argued, Republicans should also oppose funding that subsidizes transportation costs that help the Catholic Church operate schools and charitable programs because this then frees up money that supports the cover-up of sexual abuse. Carrying the Republicans’ logic of fungibility to the Catholic Church quickly fell on deaf ears as far as the Republicans were concerned. No surprise there as consistency has never been a hallmark of ideology.

Speaking of consistency, or lack thereof, how about the “we just can’t afford it” argument? This one is my favorite. The U.S. is broke. Period. Therefore, we just cannot afford to send the taxpayers’ hard-earned money overseas when so many of our own are hurting. I get it. Times are tough and we need to be smart about our investments. Why then cut funding to some of the most cost-effective programs we have, programs that support voluntary family planning, reduce maternal and infant mortality, and create more equitable and stable communities? If House Republicans were honest in their efforts to cut spending, it would be one thing. But, to argue that we simply cannot afford life-saving care for women and girls around the world all the while the Speaker of the House authorizes a tripling of the amount of taxpayers’ hard-earned money used to defend an inherently discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act is hypocrisy at its most extreme.

Well, when you farm out policymaking to the masses, that’s to be expected, right? During the committee’s debate, Republicans touted the fact that H.R. 2059 was the first winner of Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s “YouCut” program. In an effort to bring Washington to the people, this website affords citizens the opportunity to vote on programs they want to see cut, programs cherry-picked by Republican leaders. I’m all about educating voters and ensuring that a multitude of voices and opinions are expressed to our elected officials. What I’m not about is delegating legislative duties to unelected individuals in a manner akin to “American Idol” or “Dancing with the Stars.” Reality shows may be big business for the entertainment industry, but last I checked our system of government was built on principles of fairness and democracy, not on an online popularity contest.

In an era of fiscal restraint, we should absolutely scrutinize funding decisions. But, we must do so honestly and in good faith. Selectively applying arguments when it supports your ideological agenda may be a convenient way to dismantle programs you disagree with, but it’s no way to run a government. It’s time we all got real and call this what it truly is—deficit and moral hypocrisy. The real losers here are not the elected leaders who taint the system or even the public citizens who lose faith in those elected leaders. No, it’s the millions of women, men, and young people around the world who rely on UNFPA to keep them healthy, safe, and alive.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.