This is a guest post by Latanya Mapp Frett
When the new majority in the U.S. House of Representatives voted last month to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds for any purpose and to dismantle the 40-year-old national family planning program, people across the country stood up to support the nation’s leading provider of women’s health care and the availability of affordable birth control and preventive health care to low-income women in the United States.
Understandably, American defenders of women’s health and rights have been busy fighting these dangerous policies. Equally horrifying are the cuts the majority in the House has proposed to health programs for woman around the world.
Today is International Women’s Day, perhaps an appropriate moment to examine what this spending bill would mean for women beyond our borders. The House Appropriations Committee’s FY11 continuing resolution (H.R. 1) slashes international funding for family planning by nearly one-third, reinstates the “global gag rule,” and defunds the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
What does this mean on the ground? It means a woman in rural Tanzania who hikes to the nearest health center might discover she can’t receive her monthly supply of birth control because they are out of stock. Developing countries that rely on the U.S. for family planning supplies and services will sustain large cuts. This in turn means that fewer women will have access to contraception, leading to higher rates of unintended pregnancy, unsafe abortion, and an increase in the number of orphans left behind by mothers whose deaths could easily have been prevented. These consequences would cost more, not save money.
The motivation behind these cuts is clear: an attack on family planning rooted in ideology, not fact. Family planning is preventive health care, far cheaper than the expense of paying for the consequences women face when they cannot plan their pregnancies.
Evidence from the Guttmacher Institute’s Adding It Up report shows that if donor countries were to increase investments in family planning and maternal and newborn health so as to fully meet the needs of women around the world, simultaneous investments in both family planning and maternal and newborn health services would cost $1.5 billion less than investing in maternal and newborn health alone.
In other words, preventing unintended pregnancies in the first place is one of the most cost-efficient and effective ways to reduce the number of women who die each year from pregnancy-related complications.
Reinstating the global gag rule (also known as the “Mexico City policy”) doesn’t save money, either. The gag rule bans organizations that provide or advocate for abortion with their own funds from receiving U.S. funding to do other work. Once again, this policy would disqualify some of the most effective and experienced providers of reproductive health care and effectively dismantle the only health services available in some parts of the world.
When this policy was in place under President Reagan and both Presidents Bush, our partners around the world could not offer consistent supplies of contraceptives to the women they served. Some organizations were forced to shut down clinics and had to abandon educational activities.
Similarly, defunding the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), as the House bill does, will further reduce the efficiency and impact of our global health programs. UNFPA operates in 150 countries, working to expand access to family planning, improve the status of women and girls, combat female genital cutting, eliminate obstetric fistula, and provide reproductive health services in emergency situations. UNFPA’s programs complement and mirror those of USAID and extend our U.S. investment to nearly 100 additional countries where UNFPA operates reproductive health programs and we do not.
On International Women’s Day, stand with Planned Parenthood in calling on the Senate to oppose these policies that do nothing to help the economy at home or abroad. H.R. 1 threatens the health and lives of women and their children. These policies also threaten our leadership in global health. Today is a day to honor and acknowledge women around the world. To do so we must stand strong against these ideological attacks and let Congress know that family planning cuts, funding bans, and gag rules don’t save money at home or abroad; they cost lives.
Latanya Mapp Frett is the Vice President of International for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.