Election Outcome a Serious Setback for Family Planning

Population Action International’s preliminary analysis of the November 2nd congressional election results shows a significant reduction in the level of political support for international family planning and reproductive health programs on Capitol Hill.

U.S. House of Representatives

In the House, family planning lost a projected 44 votes, giving opponents a fairly solid working majority. Nearly 10 races remain undecided.

This headcount reflects diminished support for both funding and policy issues, such as a permanent legislative repeal of the Global Gag Rule and a robust contribution to UN Population Fund (UNFPA) without crippling restrictions.

The House vote breakdown ominously resembles the headcount when Republicans regained control of the House for the first time in 40 years after the 1994 election.  That time witnessed a relentless series of opposition attempts to legislate the Global Gag Rule and cut-off funding for UNFPA, which were largely beaten back in the Senate and by President Clinton.  This is likely to foreshadow similar battles over the next two years.

Particularly disheartening is the continuing decline in the number of solidly pro-family planning Republicans to single-digit levels and the defeat of a number of key “anti-abortion” Democrats who joined family planning advocates in support of access to contraception as means to reduce unintended pregnancy and the need for abortion.

U.S. Senate

In the Senate, a narrow pro-family planning majority remains—a projected 54 votes in favor, depending on the outcome of races in Alaska and Washington. Before the election, family planning supporters probably enjoyed a cloture-proof majority of 60 votes or more.  These numbers result from the Republican pick-ups in Arkansas, Indiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—states all previously represented by pro-FP Democrats.  The Senator-elect from Illinois, current House member Mark Kirk, is the lone bright spot for family planning and reproductive health on the Republican side.

House Leadership and Committee Chairs

The switch in party control in the House from Democrats to Republicans will have significant impact on foreign assistance funding and policy, especially for family planning and reproductive health programs, during the next Congress in January 2011. In the House, the majority party exercises much greater procedural authority than the Senate, enabling theRepublican leadership to control what bills are brought to the floor and what amendments can be debated.  All of the expected House Republican leadership, reflecting the composition of their party caucus, will be hostile to reproductive health and rights.

Key Republican committee chairs will be far less supportive of family planning than their Democratic predecessors. The House Foreign Affairs Committee will likely be chaired by Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), replacing Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), a leading proponent of foreign assistance reform legislation, an effort which must now be considered to be on life support.  One of her subcommittees—the Africa and Global Health Subcommittee that has jurisdiction over FP/RH programs—is expected to be soon chaired by leading family planning nemesis Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), offering an official platform from which to attack our programs.

Next in line to replace international family planning champion Nita Lowey (D-NY) as chair of the critical Appropriations Subcommittee on State Department-Foreign Operations is Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), who has expressed skepticism about the size of recent funding increases for family planning and reproductive health spearheaded by the subcommittee.

Short-Term Funding Implications

The election also has important short-term implications for international family planning and reproductive health funding as Congress returns for a lame-duck session on November 15 to finalize the fiscal year 2011 appropriations process.  If Congress seeks to leave Washington quickly and resorts to a year-long “continuing resolution” to keep the federal government financed rather than negotiating an omnibus spending bill, international family planning programs would not receive the higher funding levels contained in draft Senate and House appropriations bills–$50 and $85 million above current levels, respectively.

As is often said, elections have consequences.  This is especially the case for the international family planning and reproductive health programs of the U.S. government and perhaps they will come sooner than one might expect.

There are still several important races that have not been decided.  Population Action International will provide updated analysis as these races conclude and more details emerge about key leadership positions, committee composition, and priority issues for the 112th Congress.

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