Senators and Representatives Request International Family Planning Funding Increase

Written by Rebecca Rosenzweig, Stanback Government Relations Fellow | Published: May 28, 2024

In a letter to Chairman Diaz-Balart and Ranking Member Lee of the U.S. House Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, 138 representatives called for the allocation of crucial funding for international family planning and reproductive health care for the Fiscal Year 2025 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill. The Representatives requested no less than $1.74 billion in funding, including $116 million specifically for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and that these funds be free from policy restrictions such as the Global Gag Rule and outdated riders on UNFPA funding.

A related but less ambitious request was made by 36 senators. They sent a letter to Chairman Coons and Ranking Member Graham of the Senate Subcommittee on the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs. The senators are requesting $862 million for international family planning and reproductive health programs, including $788 million for bilateral family planning and $74 million for UNFPA.

Bilateral Family Planning

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided vital access to family planning and reproductive health information and services since 1965. In FY23, U.S. international family planning funding — $607.5 million — provided 24.2 million women and couples with contraceptive services, and averted 8.1 million unintended pregnancies, 3.2 million unplanned births, 2.6 million unsafe abortions, and14,000 maternal deaths.

These investments are not only lifesaving, but also highly cost-effective — each dollar invested in contraceptive services saves $3.70 in pregnancy related care. Family planning and reproductive health programs are key to improving global health, gender equity, economic development, and foreign policy goals.

Prioritizing UNFPA Funding

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is the largest multilateral provider of family planning and reproductive health services, working in more than 150 countries. It plays a critical role in helping the United States achieve its global health and gender equality goals, especially in nations where USAID does not operate family planning or reproductive health programs. The agency is indispensable in its efforts to end maternal and infant mortality and morbidity, unmet need for family planning, child marriage, female genital mutilation, and all forms of gender-based violence. Currently, UNFPA provides lifesaving supplies and services in crisis-ridden areas such as Ukraine, Afghanistan, Haiti, and Yemen.

Evidence-based Policy Changes

Permanent repeal of the Global Gag Rule

In January 2021, the Biden-Harris administration rescinded the Global Gag Rule, which, when it’s in effect, blocks U.S. federal funding for international non-governmental organizations that perform abortion services, provide counseling or referrals for abortion, or advocate to decriminalize abortion in their own countries, even when those activities are funded with non-U.S. money. Yet, the permanent repeal of the Global Gag Rule remains paramount, as organizations struggle to reestablish programs lost after the policy has been in effect (each Republican president since Ronald Reagan has imposed the policy), and future presidents hold the power to reinstate it unilaterally. The Global Gag Rule is devastating to international reproductive rights. It blocks essential health care access, stifles advocacy efforts, and denies access to lifesaving services for communities that already face systemic barriers to care. The signatories of these two letters implore their colleagues in Congress to permanently end the Global Gag Rule in FY 2025 to ensure that future administrations cannot reinstate the policy.

The Helms Amendment

The Helms Amendment prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds for “the performance of abortion as a method of family planning,” denying individuals the right to make their own medical decisions in countries where abortion is legal. Already a terrible policy as it’s written, the Amendment has been over-implemented as a complete ban on the use of U.S. funds for abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, and life-endangering pregnancies. While many countries have liberalized their abortion laws over the past two decades, the Helms Amendment remains a significant barrier to access. The signatories of the two letters stress that U.S. restrictions cannot hinder the provision of legal health care and must support access to safe and legal abortion worldwide.

As the largest donor to international family planning programs, the United States plays a critical role in millions of people’s access to family planning and reproductive health services. Equipped with the necessary funding, USAID and UNFPA can continue to take strides towards achieving crucial global health goals. Coupled with the elimination of outdated and harmful policies, strong funding for these programs will bolster human rights and gender equity for all.