New US funding setback for family planning

Posted: 22 July 2003

Family planning funding suffered another blow last week when the US House of Representatives voted to block $50 million in international family planning funds, contending that the programme bolsters China's coercive population policy.

The 216 to 211 vote was a setback for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which promotes contraception and safe motherhood and childcare practices in more than 150 countries. While the programme generally has had bipartisan congressional support, senior Bush administration officials and some Republican lawmakers say it violates US law by supporting China's "one-child" policy, which critics say sometimes results in forced abortions.

UNFPA officials say they do not promote abortion, and a three-member investigative team that President Bush dispatched to China last year found "no evidence" the programme endorsed or promoted coerced abortions and involuntary sterilisations. But that has failed to satisfy the administration, which diverted $34 million from the programme last year, or several congressional Republicans.

'Gag rule'

More positively, the US Senate has backed a repeal of President Bush's ban on assistance to international family planning groupsthat deal with the subject of abortion.

By a vote of 53-43, senators approved an amendment to the State Department Funding Bill that would end the so-called Mexico City Policy, an anti-abortion measure reaffirmed by Bushon his second day in office.

The Mexico City Policy, frequently referredto as "the Global Gag Rule," bars the US government from providing assistance to organizations that provide or advocate abortion or counsel women about abortion services, even where abortion is legal. The policy applies to organisations even if they use only their own funds for any abortion-related work.

Many see the Global Gag Rule as a keystone of President Bush's 'war on family planning' and believe it hampers HIV/AIDS prevention efforts indeveloping countries.

Speaking on World Population Day, Dr Steven W. Sinding Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) welcomed the news of the Senate vote:

"The Global Gag Rule would be unconstitutional if it were applied to family planning groups in the United States, and yet it is forced on the most vulnerable women in the developing world. How can President Bush impose a policy that so clearly denies free speech and still say he supports democracy?"

"The tragic irony of the Global Gag Rule is that, by cutting off funding to family planning organisations, it has actually increased the number of unintended pregnancies and illegal, unsafe abortions -- and consequentlyneedless deaths.

"The Senate's enlightened action means that perhaps we are one step closer to seeing this wrong-headed policy overturned."

  • On September 4, 2003, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to block President Bush's expansion of the global gag rule to all US Department of State programmes that provide funding to family planning organisations performing or advocating abortion. At present, the rule only applies to programmes administered by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

    Source: Washington Post, 16th July 2003, IPPF, 11th July 2003 and PlanetWire 5th September 2003.Related link: Bush's 'war against women'