WASHINGTON -- As Republicans continue to push for sweeping cuts amidst federal budget talks, women's rights advocates worry the threat to international abortion access is being overlooked. While GOP efforts to go after Planned Parenthood and U.S. abortion access have been widely discussed, little attention has been paid to overseas programs that may lose funding in the final compromise.
In February, the House passed HR 1, a budget measure that cuts $60 billion in federal spending. Calling the bill a non-starter, Democrats have voiced opposition to many of its ideological measures, such as cuts to family planning funding.
Though HR 1 never made it past the Senate, Republican lawmakers continue to stand by the spending cuts it called for. "We're going to fight for H.R. 1. It's our position," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on Thursday.
One of the legislation's less-noticed provisions would cut all funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which provides family planning and reproductive health services in 150 countries.
HR 1 would also reinstate the Mexico City Policy -- also known as the global gag rule -- prohibiting all foreign organizations receiving U.S. family planning aid from using such funds to promote or provide abortion services.
"None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this division for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs for population planning activities or other population assistance may be made available to any foreign nongovernmental organization that promotes or performs abortion, except in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term," the bill reads.
Craig Lasher, director of U.S. government relations at Population Action International, a leading advocate for family planning funding, said these measures were more ideological than anything else.
"You're not going to balance the budget or really reduce the deficit on this," he said. "Imposing the global gag rule is not going to save any money either, because those funds will just be reprogrammed to other organizations....But really, to combine both the funding cut and a restriction on where the money can go is a double whammy."
Defunding UNPF and reinstating the global gag rule are long-standing conservative priorities. In place during President Bush's tenure, Barack Obama issued an order lifting the global gag rule in one of his first acts as president. He also committed to restoring U.S. support for UNPF, allocating $47.5 million for the organization and $722 million for family planning programs administered through the U.S. Agency for International Development in his 2012 budget request.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lethinen (R-Fla.) recently wrote a letter outlining the House Committee on Foreign Affairs' budget priorities -- which includes deep cuts for international aid programs -- specifically highlighting UNFPA's "ongoing support for and participation in the management of China's brutal birth limitation policy."
She also called for the reinstatement of the global gag rule, writing, "We oppose the administration's agenda of abortion exportation and at a minimum call for reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy protections that prevent funding for foreign NGOs that promote and perform abortion."
In 2002, a three-person investigatory committee appointed by President Bush investigated allegations surrounding UNFPA's role in China's sterilizations, finding "no evidence" that the program supported or participated in such practices.
In the past, Maine GOP Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have supported international family planning funding, as did Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) when he was a member of the House. Advocates said they will be watching Senators Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), since both recently came out against defunding Planned Parenthood.
On Monday, 29 Democratic senators -- led by Senator Frank Lautenberg (R-N.J.) -- wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressing opposition to reinstating the global gag rule.
UPDATE: The Guttmacher Institute looks at what a $100 million decrease in family planning assistance could mean. (The proposed $200 million cut in H.R. 1 would double this impact):
- Six million fewer women and couples would receive contraceptive services and supplies;
- 1.9 million more unintended pregnancies, and 800,000 more unplanned births, would occur;
- 800,000 more abortions would take place (of which 600,000 would be unsafe);
- 5,000 more maternal deaths would occur;
- 600,000 more years of healthy life (DALYs) would be lost; and
- 23,000 more children would lose their mothers.
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