Analysis Contraception

The Flip Side of the Coin: GOP Attacks Access to Contraception for Poor Women Abroad

Chloe Cooney

Opponents of birth control don’t just want to limit access in the U.S., they want to slash U.S. support for international family planning programs.  It’s a perennial debate, and it’s about to start all over again

Opponents of birth control don’t just want to limit access in the U.S., they want to slash U.S. support for international family planning programs.  It’s a perennial debate, and it’s about to start all over again.

Each year, the president submits his budget to Congress, which is effectively the opening argument in the federal budget debate. President Obama’s Fiscal Year (FY) 13 budget, which he submitted two weeks ago, demonstrates the value the administration places on family planning. Despite near across-the-board cuts, funding for international family planning programs is preserved, a move that no doubt takes into account the disproportionate cuts family planning has faced in the last two budget cycles.

This week, as Secretary Hillary Clinton sat before the House and Senate to respond to members of Congress’ questions about the president’s budget, she consistently reiterated the importance of development as a key pillar of our foreign policy and national security strategy.  And at every hearing she put forward the administration’s focus on women and girls as central to these goals.

The most striking moment came during the Senate hearing earlier this week when Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) asked about the current debate over contraceptives and its threats for international family planning:

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“Opponents of contraception have sought deep cuts in international family planning programs. What happens, Madame Secretary, if they succeed cutting family planning programs? What’s the penalty?”

Secretary Clinton’s reply reiterates what those of us in the field have long known to be true and what the evidence has long supported: family planning saves lives. Around the world, 215 million women want to plan or space their births but lack access to modern contraception. Planned Parenthood Global has seen up close what this means in real women’s lives. We have seen a young woman in Guatemala forced to drop out of school and give up on her career goals after becoming pregnant unintentionally. We have seen a mother in Kenya, struggling to take care of the children she already has, try in desperation to terminate her own pregnancy and dying in the process.

The tragedy of these examples is that we have the solution. We know what works.

Yet opponents of birth control continue to take every opportunity to dismantle family planning programs. Domestically, this has historically taken the form of attacks on birth control coverage for poor women, and now on all women. On the international side, the recurring attacks include proposed slashes to the funding for the U.S. international family planning program, trying to eliminate U.S. contributions to the UN Population Fund and attempts to place harmful restrictions like the global gag rule on recipients of U.S. support. (When in place, the gag rule prohibited foreign family planning agencies from receiving U.S. funding if they provided, counseled, referred, or lobbied for abortion services, even with their own funding.)

When women have access to family planning, they are able to avoid unintended pregnancy, which leads to fewer unsafe abortions and fewer pregnancy-related deaths. Planned Parenthood Global works to fulfill women’s unmet need for contraception in select countries. We work with partners on the ground. We work with other international nongovernmental organizations. We work with ministries of health around the world. The need is great and we need more help. The president’s budget protects U.S. investments in family planning programs around the world. Now it’s up to Congress to make sure those funds remain intact.

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