The House is Not a Safe Space for Women

Ellen Marshall, Guest Contributor

Leaving no stone unturned, women’s health opponents are working again to eliminate funding for international family planning and reproductive health programs, as well as funding to UNFPA, the global agency that supports a breadth of reproductive health services for women in extreme poverty in more than 140 countries. The funding bill for the State Department and foreign assistance programs around the world brought before the House Appropriations Committee on May 17 includes provisions to reinstate the Global Gag Rule as well as defund UNFPA. As expected, the committee rejected three amendments offered by women’s health supporters to try and fix these problems in the bill.

The one surprise was that the amendment to restore funding to UNFPA, offered by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), failed in a tie after four Republicans broke with their party line and supported the amendment. (There are 29 Republicans on the committee and 21 Democrats.) Her amendment was an attempt to gain support from Members that don’t support a breadth of reproductive health issues provided by UNFPA, and so would have targeted a $39 million U.S. contribution only for efforts to prevent and treat obstetric fistula, to promote the abandonment of female genital mutilation and other harmful traditional practices including child marriage, and to ensure safe childbirth and emergency obstetric care. Who could object to meeting those health needs? Evidently most every Republican on the committee, except for Representatives Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Steven LaTourette (R-OH), Charles Dent (R-PA) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY). The amendment failed on a tie vote of 24-24. We applaud and value the principled position taken by these members – and if you have a chance, we encourage you to share the news about their strong positions in your networks or by giving their offices a call through the capitol switchboard (202-224-3121). (Emails are only accepted from their constituents.)

In another effort to directly target at U.S. contribution to UNFPA for specific activities only, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) offered an amendment stating that it would be directed to only family planning services and contraceptive supplies in low-income sub-Saharan African countries where USAID this type of assistance, specifically Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Togo. Again, the amendment was defeated – this time by a vote of 22 to 27.

And yet one more attempt to strengthen the bill for women’s health, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) offered an amendment striking the draft bill’s provision codifying the Global Gag Rule and prohibiting a U.S. contribution to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and replacing with language designating a $39 million contribution to UNFPA with the current restrictions on that contribution that are already in place to appease some member’s concerns about the fact that UNFPA works in China, even though its efforts there are to end coercive family planning practices. Again, the amendment failed – this time on a vote of 23 to 27, thanks to the vocal support during consideration of the amendment from Reps. Jim Moran (D-VA), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Steven Rothman (D-NJ).

The base bill is problematic on the funding levels as well, including a $149 million cut to international family planning means about 8 million fewer women in developing countries would have access to contraceptives and other health needs. This completely undermines the kinds of progress being made in reducing death from pregnancy and childbirth.

Originally published on Akimbo, the blog of the International Women's Health Coalition


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