Election Outcome: What Family Planning Advocates Have To Be Thankful For

Washington Memo

In this Thanksgiving season, supporters of international family planning programs have one thing to be truly thankful for—the 2012 election outcome.

With the re-election of President Obama, advocates look forward to four more years of prioritized funding for overseas family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) services and to accelerated improvement in policy and programs. Domestic and international advocates are now assembling recommendations for further advancement of reproductive health and rights at home and abroad during his second term.

In contrast, Governor Romney’s election would have quickly led to the reimposition of the Global Gag Rule and a slower, but no less certain, cut-off of a U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund. Not to mention the strong likelihood of drastically diminished funding under a Romney administration.

An analysis of the November 6th congressional election results also indicates a small, but important, increase in the level of political support for international FP/RH programs on Capitol Hill.  Particularly when compared to most predictions on the likely outcome of competitive Senate races prior to the election, the results are unexpectedly positive.

In the Senate, FP/RH advocates picked up one additional vote and retain a solid working majority on both policy-related amendments (Global Gag Rule and UNFPA contribution) and in support of current funding levels.  The Massachusetts’ seat went from the mixed category (Brown) to solidly supportive (Warren), while the Nebraska seat switched from a retiring Democrat who leaned against (Ben Nelson) to a solid Republican opponent (Fischer).

In the 113th Congress, 54 Senators can be expected to vote in favor of FP/RH with 43 opposed.  Three other Senator are classified in swing categories—one as leans pro, one as mixed, and one as leans con.

In the House, FP/RH advocates have probably had a net gain of about ten votes. However, FP/RH supporters remain far short of securing a majority on policy-related issues.  Therefore, advocates will need to continue to rely on President Obama and Senate champions to block proposed funding cuts and harmful policy “riders” that are likely to continue to emanate from the Republican-controlled House in the new Congress.

Although ongoing support for family planning funding has always been assumed even during periods when headcounts on policy issues were the most lopsided, attacks on contraception and Planned Parenthood funding during the last Congress raise serious questions about the continuing validity of that assumption.  At the same time, the wide gender gap in the presidential race and the high profile that the “war on women” took on during the campaign in some states may have chastened House Republicans, perhaps resulting in a pullback from public fights on some of the more extreme proposals that were offered or threatened over the last two years.

The projected headcount for the House in the 113th Congress is as follows: 186 pro, six leans pro, seven mixed, eight leans con, and 227 con.  [Only one race in which the candidates have opposing views on FP/RH has yet to be resolved—the 18th District of Florida].

One observation worth highlighting is the starkness of the partisan divide on reproductive rights issues, and by extension on international FP/RH policies and funding, which continued to widen in the recent election.  In the headcount on FP/RH issues for the 113th Congress, only one House Republican is categorized as a solid supporter, and three Democrats are classified as solid opponents. Similarly, in the incoming Senate, only two Republicans can be considered completely reliable FP/RH supporters, while only two Democrats are categorized as swing votes.  The level of bipartisan support that international FP/RH issues once enjoyed may be a thing of the past.

The election outcome will have other important corollary effects including changes in the leadership and membership of the key committees with jurisdiction over foreign assistance programs resulting from shifting party ratios and the departure of incumbents through retirement or defeat.

The election will also influence the negotiations over how to address the looming “fiscal cliff”—expiration of the Bush tax cuts, avoiding decimating spending cuts under budget sequestration, and raising the federal debt ceiling—during a lame duck session of Congress.  Lawmakers also need to enact a final FY 2013 appropriations package. Any political agreement that may be put together will have significant implications for international FP/RH funding, as well as for the rest of the international affairs budget.  Regrettably, no certain predictions can be offered as to how this will all be resolved between now and the end of the year.

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