For supporters of the U.S. government’s international family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) program, last week’s mid-term congressional elections turned out even worse than most observers had anticipated, particularly in the Senate.
For the first time, FP/RH advocates may not be able depend on the Senate to remain a bulwark defending the international program from anti-family planning attacks originating in the House. Historically, the program has always enjoyed a working majority on both policy-related amendments—Global Gag Rule and U.S. contributions to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)—and in support of hundreds of millions of dollars in annual funding, regardless of which party controlled the Senate. That 30-year precedent changed on November 4th.
In the Senate, FP/RH advocates lost at least seven solid votes. In the House, they are likely to have suffered a net loss of about a dozen votes. Come January, there will also be significant changes in the leadership and membership of the key committees with jurisdiction over foreign assistance programs, resulting from shifting party ratios and the departure of incumbents through retirement or defeat. However, it is important to remember that individual Senators can exercise considerable influence over the legislative process, and FP/RH champions will continue to have the ability and procedural tools at their disposal to prevent more radical anti-family planning proposals from advancing if they so choose.
For projected vote breakdowns of the new Congress, and details on what to expect in the lame duck session, read the full Washington Memo.
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