Last night sane heads prevailed and the Senate voted to defeat the Wicker Amendment to the omnibus bill that could once again have been used to limit US funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The vote was 55 to 39 against the amendment.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) lead the effort to defeat the Wicker amendment.
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont defends the work of the UNFPA in a speech against the Wicker amendment on Thursday.
The Omnibus bill includes $50 million for UNFPA, an organization that seeks to improve access to basic family planning services, including contraception to help women avoid unintended pregnancy, and essential maternal health, pre- and post-natal care, and emergency obstetric care aimed at reducing maternal and infant mortality. Deaths due to complications of pregnancy and unsafe abortion remain leading killers of women in many countries of the world. UNFPA is an essential partner in efforts to reduce the high rates of death among women and the toll such deaths take on families and communities.
US funding for UNFPA had become a political football during the Bush Administration, and was held up by baseless charges that the organization contributed to abuses under China’s one-child family policy. No credible evidence has ever been found to prove this charge. To the contrary, a Bush-appointed State Department team stated:
"We find no evidence that UNFPA has knowingly supported
or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or
involuntary sterilization in the PRC."
The same team recommended that funds be restored
to UNFPA. But ideological and political decisions once again
prevailed, and the US continued to refuse to make a contribution to
UNFPA throughout the last Administration, despite the findings of its own team.
As we wrote earlier this
week, the HR 1105 contained langauge intending to restore funding to
UNFPA. To immunize UNFPA against future political attacks such as occured under Bush, the Omnibus would provide funding for
UNFPA for specific activities, including:
- providing and distributing equipment, medicine, and supplies,
including safe delivery kits and hygiene kits to ensure safe
childbirth and emergency obstetric care;
- making available supplies of contraceptives for the
prevention of unintended pregnancies and the spread of sexually
transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS;
- reestablishing maternal health services in areas where
medical infrastructure and such services have been destroyed or limited
by natural disasters, armed conflict, or other factors; and
- promoting access to basic services, including clean
water, sanitation facilities, food, and health care, for poor women and
The bill notes clearly that none of these activities could be used to fund programs in China.
UNFPA does not fund, provide or support abortion services anywhere.
For these and other reasons, Senator Leahy argued that the Wicker amendment was unnecessary because the law already prohibits funding of programs that engage in coercive abortion (which UNFPA does not), stating:
"Why we would want to prohibit funds to save the lives of women who could otherwise die or be debilitated the rest of their lives I cannot understand. There are none of us here who would hesistate for a moment to provide funds to help a woman in our family who might be in this condition but this amendment does just that."
Thankfully, leaders like Senator Leahy are still willing to stand up for evidence, for women’s rights, and for the restoration of sane and commonsense approaches to promoting women’s health. The difference now is that he and others have sufficient votes to prevail.