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Here We Go Again: House Proposes Slashing International Family Planning Programs and Reinstating Global Gag Rule

11:57 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Chloë Cooney for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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.

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-NY) 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.

Senate Committee Passes Appropriations Bill Permanently Banning Global Gag Rule

11:04 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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Today, the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment to the FY 2012 State Department and foreign operations appropriations bill that, if signed into law, would block re-imposition of the Global Gag Rule. The amendment was introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and would prohibit future Presidents from using executive orders to refuse funding to a foreign organization solely because of the legal medical services it provides; the information, counseling, and referrals it offers; or the advocacy it engages in with its own government—using its own non-U.S. funds.

The Foreign Ops bill provides funding for the U.S. diplomatic corps and development, health, and humanitarian assistance programs of the U.S. government. In it, the committee also approved funding for international reproductive health programs and the U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

A parallel bill in the House of Representatives approved in committee this summer cuts international family planning funding by 25 percent from current levels, reinstates the Global Gag Rule, and includes a blanket prohibition on U.S. funding to UNFPA.

The current Senate bill includes $700 million for family planning programs, $239 million more than the House bill and $85 million above current funding levels.

According to Population Action International, today’s markup “puts the Senate on record rejecting the House version and sets the stage for a showdown over the final FY 2012 appropriations bill to be negotiated later this year.”

In response to passage of the bill in committee, Lautenberg stated: Read the rest of this entry →

House GOP Renews Misguided Effort to Defund UNFPA, Risking the Lives of Millions of Women

1:02 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Valerie DeFillipo for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

 

On the heels of Vice President Biden’s recent trip to China, the GOP leadership of the House of Representatives issued a misguided ultimatum to President Obama: defund UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, or else.

UNFPA is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using population data to develop policies and programs to reduce poverty, to strengthen reproductive health programs, and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.  In a world where 215 million women want access to family planning services but do not have it, in which women make up the majority of those infected with and affected by HIV and AIDS, and in which complications of pregnancy remain the leading cause of deaths among women in many countries, UNFPA is needed more than ever before.

This is not a controversial agenda.  In fact, it is one shown to be supported by the vast majority of Americans. As noted by a Guttmacher Institute Report, 91 percent of Americans believe that “every woman on the planet deserves access to quality maternal and reproductive health care.” Another found 89 percent in favor of “health care services, including access to basic health care and family planning services” as a way to promote economic development and advance the status of women and girls.

But as a result of misguided ideology and politics, and at a time when women’s most fundamental rights are under assault, we have been thrust into a dangerous game of falsehoods versus reality- and the stakes are high. What is the life of one woman worth? When reproductive rights are politicized, the health and safety of every woman hangs in the balance.

Each year, over 150 countries around the world contribute to helping UNFPA carry out the vital tasks it has been assigned by members of the United Nations, including the United States of America. As a global leader, the U.S. should continue to show the way.  U.S. financial support to UNFPA affirms the United States’ long-held commitment to save lives, slow the spread of HIV and encourage gender equality. Yet partisan politics continues to play an leading role in U.S. contributions to UNFPA. Despite systematic attempts in past Administrations to link UNFPA’s promotion of voluntary family planning services to China’s one child policy, no such connection exists. In 2002, both a UK parliamentary delegation as well as an independent blue-ribbon delegation sent to China by the U.S. State Department found no evidence that UNFPA supported China’s coercive birth policies. Indeed, the delegation reported that UNFPA advocated against and was a force for changing those policies. Still, UNFPA received no contribution from the U.S. from 2001 to 2007.

To be clear, UNFPA does not support coercion in family planning, coercive abortions or forced sterilizations anywhere.  The rejection of these practices is a fundamental principle of UNFPA’s mandate from members of the United Nations members, and as part of the mandate of the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994), the development of which the U.S. played a critical leadership role.

In reality, UNFPA promotes voluntary family planning and opposes all forms of coercion, targets or quotas. Americans support the work of UNFPA and recognize that the ability to make important decisions about childbearing is one of the most basic human rights. Supporting voluntary family planning and reproductive health care programs is a critical step toward improving the status of women and upholding these basic human rights around the world. And, as about one fifth of the world’s population, Chinese men and women have the same right as peoples elsewhere to learn about and gain from the voluntary approach family planning. And this is exactly what Americans want UNFPA to continue doing on the ground.

Claims attempting to link UNFPA with a gender imbalance resulting from son preference in China are equally unfounded. The UN and UNFPA in particular have made strong declarations against gender imbalance. In fact, UNFPA broke the taboo on this issue and became the first international agency to highlight the problem to Chinese authorities. Along with other UN agencies, UNFPA is coordinating an initiative on joint work to tackle the root causes of son preference. UNFPA’s 2008-2013 Strategic Plan calls for issues around sex preference and sex-selection to be included in analyses of efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals, in reproductive health-care studies, and in international forums. Today, UNFPA continues to promote gender equality in China and leads efforts to reduce discrimination and violence against women.

UNFPA’s core programs help mothers survive pregnancy and childbirth, and deliver healthy newborns. The programs also encourage and enable couples to determine the number and spacing of their children and reduce the incident of HIV/AIDS. When U.S. funding is withheld, UNFPA’s lifesaving work will unquestionably dwindle, making women the pawns in this dangerous game. We simply cannot allow this to happen in the spirit of ideological demagoguery and ultimatums.

Democrats Seek Permanent Repeal of Global Gag Rule; GOP Seeks to Enshrine it in Law

9:42 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

"Gag Law"

"Gag Law" by gmcmullen on flickr

Written for RHRealityCheck.org by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Yesterday, Congresswoman Nita Lowey introduced the Global Democracy Promotion Act of 2011, a bill that would permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule (GGR), a policy that has been applied and revoked via executive order at each change in the White House, beginning with Ronald Reagan and leading most recently to repeal by President Obama in 2009.

The GGR prohibits international health care providers from receiving U.S. international assistance for family planning if those organizations use other (non-US) funding to provide abortion counseling, referrals, or services, or seek to change laws regarding abortion care in countries in which abortion is a leading cause of death among women ages 15 to 49.  Access to contraception and to family planning counseling and information helps women and their partners to plan the number and spacing of children they want to have and to avoid unintended pregnancies that lead to abortion.  As such, by denying U.S. international assistance to groups that also provide safe, legal abortion, the GGR actually increases the number of abortions, rather than reducing them. Read the rest of this entry →

Rep. Carolyn Maloney: Why the U.S. Should Address Obstetric Fistula and How

8:44 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Rep. Carolyn Maloney for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Pregnancy shouldn’t leave a woman with a disability and ostracized from her community.  And Congress should ensure investments for the more than two million women worldwide that have obstetric fistula and that we do what we can to prevent new cases from occurring. Fistula results from prolonged labor without medical attention due to the pressure created internally from obstructed delivery, which kills tissue where a hole between the woman’s vagina and rectum develops, leaving her without control of her bladder and and/or bowels for the rest of her life without treatment.  It often results in the death of the infant.  Many women with obstetric fistula are abandoned by their husbands and families because they are considered “unclean” due to the leaking of urine and/or feces.  Left without support, the women are often forced to beg or turn to sex work to survive.

Fistula was once common throughout the world, but over the last century has been eradicated in Europe and North America through improved medical care. For example, New York’s hospital for fistula patients, now the site of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, closed in 1895 because of diminishing cases.  But still in 2010, from Bangladesh to Botswana, women continue to face these challenging deliveries and the complications associated with them, including obstetric fistulas.

I met the inspiring Catherine Hamlin and invited her to brief my colleagues about her amazing work at the Addis Abba Fistula Hospital.  I was so moved to learn from her first hand about the unnecessary suffering of women in Ethiopia and how Dr. Hamlin’s life work has been devoted to their repair and treatment.  This only strengthened my resolve to address this issue – not only to treat these women but also prevent it happening to others. … Read more

The Pro-Lie Movement Targets Hillary

8:51 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

RHRealityCheck.org – Information, commentary and community for reproductive health and rights. Written by Cristina Page.

One woman is a victim of daily defamation from the right: Susan B. Anthony. The name and image of the iconic suffragist have been used to promote the anti-woman, anti-choice campaigns of a group that calls itself the "Susan B. Anthony List." Clearly, they hope that co-opting the name of the famous woman’s rights leader will camouflage their anti-woman agenda. It should then come as no surprise that the same group is now maligning and defaming (though not yet co-opting) the name of another woman’s rights leader, Hillary Clinton.

The "Susan B. Anthony List" claims Clinton, as Obama’s Secretary of State, will "promote abortion" around the world. According to their November 30 press release, "Clinton will join Obama in promoting taxpayer funding of international abortions through a revocation of the Mexico City Policy and restoring funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The UNFPA has been implicated in supporting China’s coercive one-child family planning policy that involves forced abortions and sterilizations."

Defamation is a tool of the anti-choice establishment. Its campaign against UNFPA was one of its most sinister. It was, Read the rest of this entry →