A change was made to this article at 3:36 pm, Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012 to correct an error. The earlier version incorrectly identified Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro as a representative from New York. The Congresswoman represents Connecticut.
The recent arrival of Chinese human rights advocate Chen Guangcheng has focused the world’s attention on the scourge of coercive reproductive policies in some countries. Now more than ever, U.S. foreign assistance should be directed toward those working to advance human rights. Yet, once again, the House Appropriations Committee voted to let politics interfere with lifesaving health care for women.
Last week, the House Appropriations Committee proposed to cut funding for international family planning programs and impose harmful restrictions on women’s access to essential health care — including the global gag rule and prohibiting U.S. contributions to UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.
While this trifecta of funding cuts and restrictions now seems par for the course in the House, it comes in striking contrast to new evidence released the day prior by leading health organizations. A report from the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UNFPA, and the World Bank, once again confirms that birth control and reproductive health services are essential to saving women’s lives around the world. Thanks to these interventions, the report finds, maternal deaths declined by nearly 50 percent over the last 20 years.
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As the report’s authors state, “[W]hen governments take a strategic approach to the safe motherhood challenge — by deploying trained midwives, ensuring adequate essential supplies, making family planning accessible and providing timely obstetric care to women with complications, we are getting results.”
In other words, evidence shows that family planning prevents the needless deaths of women worldwide. One would think this would be cause to sustain or even increase U.S. investments in these programs.
Unfortunately, the House bill contains $149 million in funding cuts and would roll funding levels back to 2008 levels. These cuts would result in nearly eight million fewer women being able to access birth control, 745,000 more unsafe abortions, and nearly 6,000 more maternal deaths, according to recent Guttmacher Institute analysis.
In an effort to find common ground and protect women’s health, Representatives Nita Lowey (D-NY), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), each offered amendments to the bill that would allow continued support for targeted programs. All three were voted down by the House majority (with Republican Representatives Charlie Dent (PA) and Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ) crossing the aisle to support all three).
That the House majority rejected all three of these compromise solutions reveals the extreme nature of their views and the lengths to which they will go to avoid working with UNFPA.
Critics of the agency claim that UNFPA’s work in China reinforces the Chinese government’s harmful one-child policy and the illegal practices of forced abortion and coerced birth control reported in some localities. In fact, as the Bush Administration’s own specially appointed fact-finding team confirmed, UNFPA’s work to promote voluntary family planning programs empowers women and families and works toward eliminating coercive practices. If we are serious about promoting a rights-based approach to reproductive health in China, we should be supporting UNFPA, not vilifying it.
The House proposal serves as an opening offer in the congressional debate over the FY13 budget. This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee is presenting and debating their version of the bill, which increases support for international family planning without attaching restrictions that would undercut these efforts. The impact of the decisions made by this Congress will be felt in the lives of women and families around the world.