For House GOP Appropriators, It’s Deja Vu All Over Again on Family Planning

Washington Memo

Earlier this afternoon, the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee voted to approve a bill that includes dangerous cuts to international family planning and destructive policy “riders.” The legislation is virtually identical to last year’s House bill in its hostile funding and policy provisions. As Yogi Berra famously observed, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

The committee-approved bill, which funds the State Department operations and U.S. foreign assistance programs, places a ceiling on funding for family planning and reproductive health programs at $461 million. The size of the cut is $127 million less than current levels and $174 million less than the President’s budget request. The bill also includes destructive, ideological policy restrictions that undermine access to contraception for poor women in the developing world. These include a legislative reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule and a prohibition on a U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the lead UN agency on reproductive health issues.

While the bill provides important funding for global HIV/AIDS programs through PEPFAR and the Global Fund and maternal and child health programs, U.S. efforts to achieve an AIDS-free generation and improve maternal and child health are undermined by the deep cuts to family planning/reproductive health and imposition of harmful policy riders.

Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) detailed the negative impact of these short-sighted anti-family planning attacks in her opening statement , saying:  “…reinstatement of the global gag rule, funding ban on the UNFPA, and reduction in support for bilateral family planning efforts are simply unacceptable. These policies are proven to do the exact opposite of what we all hope to achieve: fewer unwanted pregnancies and fewer abortions.  The majority’s insistence on policies and funding levels that are diametrically opposed to our shared goals is inexplicable.  It is unconscionable that anyone would insist on these cuts and policy riders…”

In order to counter the inclusion of the language legislatively reinstating the Global Gag Rule when the text of the committee’s draft bill was made public last Thursday, Congresswoman Lowey and 114 cosponsors introduced the Global Democracy Promotion Act (H.R. 2738 ). The freestanding bill aims to permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule and prevent a future President, hostile to family planning, from reinstating the policy unilaterally.

During markup, the committee rejected three pro-family planning and reproductive health amendments that were offered by family planning champions in an attempt to protect women from the bill’s most blatant attacks.

Up first, Ranking Member Lowey offered an amendment that sought to strike the entire section in the bill codifying the Global Gag Rule and prohibiting a U.S. contribution to UNFPA.  The Lowey amendment then designated a $37 million contribution to UNFPA (the President’s FY 2014 budget request) under the plethora of current law restrictions to prevent U.S. funds from being spent by UNFPA in China or for abortion.  The amendment was rejected on a vote of 24 to 26 with all committee Democrats—joined by Republican Representatives Dent (R-PA) and Frelinghuysen (R-NJ)—supporting, and the majority of committee Republicans opposing. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) did not attend the markup.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) followed with an amendment designating $37 million for a U.S. contribution to UNFPA only to support specific programs and activities. These include nine areas:  expanding contraceptive supplies; safe childbirth and emergency obstetric care; elimination of coercive practices; reduction of gender discrimination, including sex selection; prevention and treatment of obstetric fistula, combating female genital mutilation, reestablishing maternal health services in areas affected by disasters and conflict; protecting women and their access to vital services in humanitarian emergencies; and elimination of child marriage.  The DeLauro amendment failed on an identical 24 to 26 vote with Democrats again being joined by Republicans Dent and Frelinghuysen.

The last pro-UNFPA amendment was offered by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). It  designated $37 million for a U.S. contribution to UNFPA to be used only for family planning services and contraceptive supplies in low-income sub-Saharan African countries where USAID does not provide family planning assistance—specifically Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Togo.  The Lee amendment was defeated on a vote of 23 to 26. Rep. Fattah (D-PA) was absent for the vote and otherwise the headcount was identical to the previous two amendments.

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee will take up its vastly better version of a FY 2014 State Department-foreign operations bill tomorrow, and the committee is widely expected to approve a bill that is the complete opposite of the House legislation.  We will report on Friday the significantly higher funding and positive policy proposals that are sure to be included by Senate champions in their markup on Thursday morning and outline the stark contrasts between the House and Senate bills in their proposed treatment of international family planning and reproductive health programs.

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