President Obama is expected to sign by the end of this week a $915 billion “megabus” spending package for fiscal year 2012 (H.R. 2055), encompassing nine appropriations bills, including State Department and foreign operations which funds international family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) programs.
Support for FP/RH programs for women and families in developing countries remained constant, with level funding for bilateral programs. However, the U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA), which saves thousands of lives each year, took an unfortunate $5 million hit. Congressional family planning champions are to be commended for holding the line against deeper funding cuts and fending off hostile policy riders.
The State Department and foreign operations bill section of the massive omnibus includes a total of $610 million in bilateral and multilateral FP/RH funding. Comparable FY 2011 funding totaled $615 million.
Statutory language earmarks “not less than” $575 million for bilateral FP/RH programs from all funding accounts, including the Global Health Programs account and funding for FP/RH activities from Economic Support Funds (ESF) and Assistance for Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia (AEECA). The level of $575 million is identical to the amount earmarked for bilateral programs in the FY 2011 continuing resolution. Report language designates that $524 million of the $575 million total is to be provided from the Global Health Programs account managed by USAID, equivalent to current expenditures.
In addition, the bill includes $35 million for a U.S. contribution to the UN Population Fund in the international organizations and programs (IO&P) account, representing a $5 million reduction from the amount appropriated for FY 2011. The bill also incorporates longstanding restrictions on the UNFPA contribution, including requirements that UNFPA maintain U.S. funds in a segregated account, none of which may be used in China or for abortion, and mandates a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the amount provided to UNFPA by a sum identical to that spent by UNFPA in China.
UNFPA has faced unrelenting attacks in the House during 2011 including a flat-out funding prohibition inserted in the House version of the appropriations bill and the introduction and committee approval of a freestanding bill to end U.S. financial support to UNFPA.
The bill does not contain any language on the Global Gag Rule (GGR)—neither the House subcommittee-approved amendment to reimpose the GGR, nor the Senate committee-passed Lautenberg amendment that would prohibit a future President from reinstating the GGR unilaterally. Other longstanding, boilerplate restrictions on the use of foreign assistance funds for abortion-related activities were retained.
Unfortunately, the conference report did not include two important policy changes proposed in the Senate bill. Dropped were a provision to expand the exemption from country aid prohibitions to include FP/RH programs along with all other global health sectors and another to allow funding for abortion for Peace Corps volunteers in cases of life, rape, and incest. Both should have been noncontroversial fixes.
Particularly in comparison to the House position entering the negotiations with the Senate—$150 million funding cut, reimposition of the Global Gag Rule, and UNFPA contribution prohibition—the final deal can be viewed as a win for family planning and reproductive health programs. Perhaps this assessment is an example of an unfortunate redefinition of success in the current political climate.
U.S. funding for FP/RH programs overseas remains woefully inadequate in the face of the tremendous need that exists. 215 million women in developing countries want to avoid pregnancy but lack access to or information about modern contraception. The result is thousands of unintended pregnancies and maternal deaths each year that could be prevented. Increasing voluntary access to contraception saves women’s lives and gives them an opportunity to create a better future for themselves and their families.
The President should continue to request robust funding increases for these vital health programs when he presents his fiscal year 2013 budget to Congress in early February and continue to strongly oppose attempts to cut funding or impose harmful policy restrictions.