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Another Blow Against Women -- House Appropriations Committee Votes to Defund UNFPA

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In one fell swoop, the Appropriations Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives voted today to wipe out $39 million in funding for UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. By voting to ban any U.S. contribution to UNFPA in FY2013, House Appropriators made a judgment call that saving the lives of women and girls around the world is simply not a U.S. priority.

Despite valiant efforts led by State Foreign Operations Subcommittee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY), amendments that sought to reinstate funding to UNFPA for specific activities failed. Committee members voted against amendments that would permit funding to UNFPA for preventing and treating obstetric fistula, ending female genital mutilation, and providing family planning services and contraceptive supplies in nine sub-Saharan African countries with high rates of poverty and maternal mortality where USAID does not provide family planning assistance. Given that the decisions we make today impact the world we will live in tomorrow, this short-sidedness on the part of leadership in the House of Representatives forges a treacherous path.

While U.S. funding for UNFPA is routinely called into question by House leadership, UNFPA's lifesaving work is irrefutable. On the ground improving lives in more than 150 countries, UNFPA accelerates progress towards universal access to sexual and reproductive health, including voluntary family planning and safe motherhood. UNFPA is delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe, and every young person's potential is fulfilled. UNFPA embraces the tenet that reproductive rights are human rights.

The irony implicit in defunding is inescapable. The latest development in the House of Representatives comes on the heels of a major breakthrough in maternal mortality rates around the world. Just yesterday, a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, UNFPA and the World Bank, confirms that maternal death rates have dropped significantly. Amounting to approximately 290,000 maternal deaths per year, the new data indicates a 47% drop in maternal deaths over the last twenty years. The fact that more women are surviving childbirth than ever before is a remarkable achievement and is one in which UNFPA has worked for years to bring about. Still, every two minutes a woman dies of pregnancy-related complications. This is an unacceptable loss of life and a gross social injustice. The fact that these deaths are preventable and still occur is just not good enough in the 21st Century.

We know what needs to be done to put an end to maternal mortality, and we know where the work is most needed. Women and girls in some of the hardest hit countries like Somalia, Chad, India and Nigeria are in desperate need of access to voluntary family planning services, contraceptive supplies, skilled birth attendance and emergency obstetric care. Without the funding to support these vital programs and services, all of the progress we have made up until this point will be in jeopardy. Simply put: to be able to sustain the scope and breadth of its work, UNFPA relies on funds from the United States. The loss of U.S. funding would be devastating to the women and girls in developing countries who need these services the most.

Each year UNFPA provides 500 million couples with contraception. Still, 215 million want to postpone or delay pregnancy but are not using contraception. UNFPA is a leader in assisting countries in forecasting and supplying their needs for contraceptives, condoms, and other reproductive health supplies. The right to voluntary choice in reproductive decision-making involves ensuring equality and equity between women and men and the provision of universal and equal access to comprehensive quality sexual and reproductive health services that protect privacy, informed and free consent, and confidentiality. Every day, UNFPA works to achieve these ends. Our work is not done until we have made every pregnancy wanted and every childbirth safe.

Reproductive rights are human rights, but apparently not in the minds of House Appropriators.

Stand for the health and dignity of women and girls everywhere. Tell Congress to stand with UNFPA.