An International Perspective on Current Budget Debates about RH


In the huge debate about access to reproductive health including to safe legal abortion in the U.S., little attention has been paid to the international scene and to the budget fight here for the reproductive health of the women of the world.

In the recent budget negotiations the U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund was reduced to $40 million from the 2010 allocation of $55 million. The House of Representatives had approved a ban on all funding to UNFPA. (34 Million Friends would welcome new friends www.34millionfriends.org. )

USAID’s budget for reproductive health and family planning was reduced to $575 million from the $648 million that had been appropriated. The Global Gag Rule was not reinstated. Was this a victory or defeat? Both. The U.S. still joins the world community in supporting UNFPA. USAID and American reproductive health NGOs like Engenderhealth and Pathfinder will still be able to work with international NGOs like Marie Stopes and the International Planned Parenthood Federation who do practice abortion where it is legal. But a loss of $15 million to UNFPA and of $73 million to USAID will make a difference in the reproductive health and well-being of countless women. And this is at a time when the whole world is coalescing behind the education, health and human rights of the world’s women and girls. What irony!

UNFPA which works at the very core of Millennium Development Goal 5 (Improve Maternal Health) states that it welcomes the $40 million from the U.S. government and will work to ensure that there be minimal fluctuations in its programs.

All Americans should be come acquainted with the Millennium Development Goals. To me, MDG 5 is central to the achievement of all the goals. Please see www.un.org/millenniumgoals . They are a blueprint for any acceptable future for people and the planet.

And here is MDG 5:

Target 5.A: Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio

  • Most maternal deaths could be avoided
  • Giving birth is especially risky in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where most women deliver without skilled care
  • The rural-urban gap in skilled care during childbirth has narrowed

Target 5.B:Achieve universal access to reproductive health

  • More women are receiving antenatal care
  • Inequalities in care during pregnancy are striking
  • Only one in three rural women in developing regions receive the recommended care during pregnancy
  • Progress has stalled in reducing the number of teenage pregnancies, putting more young mothers at risk
  • Poverty and lack of education perpetuate high adolescent birth rates
  • Progress in expanding the use of contraceptives by women has slowed
  • Use of contraception is lowest among the poorest women and those with no education
  • Inadequate funding for family planning is a major failure in fulfilling commitments to improving women’s reproductive health

The last bullet point in Target 5 B about family planning should be front and center. It used to say at www.un.org/millenniumgoals: “An unmet need for family planning undermines the achievement of several other goals.” I’d say ALL THE GOALS. Why did they take that sentence out? I do urge you to watch www.empty-handed.org , an 80 second video by Population Action International about the effects of a shortage of family planning commodities on the lives of real women.

This email dated April 15, 2011 sent out by Population Action International to its supporters contains a good summary of where we stand.

Thank you for standing with women and sending letters to the President and Senate Majority Leader Reid supporting international family planning.  Your activism helped stave off the severe funding cuts and damaging policy restrictions proposed by the House.  As a result ,women in developing countries will have better access to the contraceptives they need to plan their families.

Later today the President will sign the spending bill that will fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal 2011.  The bill contains $615 million for international family planning programs–a disappointing and disproportionate cut from current funding, but only a fraction of the more than $200 million reduction initially proposed by the House.  Forunately, the bill does not impose any of the damaging policy restrictions, such as the Global Gag Rule or a cut-off of the U.S. contribution to the UN Population Fund, sought by House Republicans.

Please say tuned for further developments as Congress now turns its attention to the fiscal 2012 budget and appropriations process.

Note from Jane Roberts: There is a discrepancy between the $615 million quoted here and the $575 million quoted earlier which I am unable to explain. I consider both sources reliable. Also the debates about the 2012 budget concerning overseas development assistance and about reproductive health in particular are going to be brutal.  

In 2010 the United Nations adopted the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health. http://www.un.org/sg/globalstrategy.shtmlThere is also a global push for more accountability in this area.

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin is the recently inaugurated Executive Director of UNFPA. “We need to keep pushing to make universal access to reproductive health a reality. Investing in the health and rights of women and young people is not an expenditure; it is an investment in our future.”

Amen to that!

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  • jane-roberts

    Thank you Suzanne Ehlers of PAI for this elucidation referring to “Note from Jane” above.  Spending Bill (H.R. 1473) (the budget compromise) which  will fund the federal government through the remainder of 2011 contains a total of $615 million for international FP/RH programs, including $575 million for bilateral programs of USAID and $40 million for a U.S. contribution to UNFPA. So the explanation is that the $615 million was a combination of USAID and UNFPA allocations. $615 million represents a $33.5 million -or 5 percent- overall reduction from the 2010 level for FP/RH.  But global health programs actually enjoyed a net increase of $66 million even after accounting for the FP/RH reduction and a more modest cut to HIV/AIDS programs.

  • jane-roberts

    I think this also is a must article. It is entitled “U.N. decries Stagnant Funding for Population Goals.”   http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=55250 Meeting the needs of women for reproductive health does help reduce population pressures and helps with poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability which are  part and parcel of the Millennium Development Goals. And access to RH is a human right established at ICPD in 1994.  I am somewhat of a pessimist about the future. The U.N. predicts a human population of over 9 billion by 2050 because there are SO many young people on the planet today coming into their reproductive years. Over 90 percent of the population growth will come in the poorest countries where women have low status. This can’t be good.