Ever since the Trump administration released a Fiscal Year 2018 budget blueprint that zeroed out funding for international family planning, we’ve been holding our breath, waiting to see if Congress would go along with it. Earlier this month, we got an answer. The House released its draft of the State Department/Foreign Operations Appropriations (SFOPs) bill, calling for a nearly $150 million cut to international family planning, but not totally eliminating the program. So, yay, I guess, sort of? (NB: sarcasm).
In addition to capping family planning $461 million (way less than the $1.2 billion needed), the draft bill also codified both Trump’s expanded Global Gag Rule and his ban on funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Late yesterday, the Appropriations Committee marked up the bill, and some of our allies on the committee offered a pair of amendments designed to remove the restrictions and restore funding for the program.
They had a lot of work to do.
The Global Gag Rule is Already Inflicting Lasting Damage
The funding cuts are a danger to future work, but we’re already seeing significant harm from the policy restrictions. Family Health Options Kenya, for example, will likely have to close half its clinics—clinics that serve 1.5 million women a year. In Nepal, experts are worried about a collapse of the health care system. In Colombia, public health outreach to rural communities trying to recover after decades of war will likely be eliminated.
The Gag Rule has always been a stupid, counterproductive policy, cutting off funding to effective, experienced providers of family planning around the world and, according to the research, actually resulting in higher abortion rates in a lot of places. And that’s before Donald Trump and Mike Pence got hold of it. The Trump administration found a way to make this already disastrous policy even more destructive, applying it not only to family planning programs, but to an estimated $8.8 billion in global health funding. The results could be catastrophic for HIV/AIDS programs, for programs combatting tuberculosis and malaria, and for the fight against the Zika virus.
The bill also goes out of its way to attack UNFPA, despite its work to expand access to birth control, to prevent and treat obstetric fistula, to eliminate female genital mutilation, to ensure access to basic reproductive health care during humanitarian crises, to end the practice of child marriage, and to eliminate coercive practices in China. Its remarkable work to provide reproductive health care to Syrian refugees is facing significant cutbacks due to the loss of US support.
The senior Democrat, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) offered an amendment to eliminate the Gag Rule and UNFPA provisions. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) offered an amendment to strike the Gag Rule and UNFPA provisions, as well as increase the amount of money directed to family planning programs.
Despite strong statements of support from multiple committee members, both amendments failed 23-29. Every Democrat voted in favor. Only Rep. Charlie Dent (PA) crossed party lines to join them.
It’s a disappointing outcome, but it’s not the end of the line. The Senate still has to do its version of the bill, so we’re going to get another chance at the fight. It’s not over yet, and we’re not giving up.