Good News & Bad News on Family Planning and Reproductive Health Appropriations

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This was a busy week for House and Senate appropriators on the FY 2015 State Department and foreign operations appropriations bills, with widely different results for international family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) funding and policy.

First, the good news. Yesterday, the full Senate Appropriations Committee adopted its version of the bill (S. 2499) that includes a healthy FP/RH funding level and important pro-family planning policy provisions.

The Senate committee-approved bill specifies a total of $644.3 million for bilateral and multilateral FP/RH funding from all accounts, including $37.5 million for a U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population (UNFPA). The overall funding amount is identical to that in the President’s budget request, but would represent a $34 million or a 5.6 percent increase above current funding levels. The UNFPA contribution called for in the Senate bill is more than $2 million higher than both current levels and the President’s request.

Bilateral FP/RH funding is earmarked at $606.8 million in the bill. The report accompanying the bill specifies that $539 million of the overall total be allocated from the Global Health Programs account and an additional $67.8 million from the Economic Support Fund be allocated for FP/RH activities in a small number of politically and strategically important countries.

During yesterday’s markup, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) successfully offered an amendment permanently repealing the Global Gag Rule, preventing a future President who is hostile to women’s health from unilaterally reinstating this harmful policy unilaterally through executive action. Her amendment would amend the permanent authorizing statute with the operative language of the Global Democracy Promotion Act (S. 119 and H.R. 2738), ensuring that foreign organizations are not subject to more restrictive conditions on their eligibility for family planning assistance than their U.S. partners.

The Shaheen amendment was adopted after a brief debate by a strong bipartisan margin of 19 to 11. All committee Democrats voted for the amendment as did three Republicans—Senators Collins (R-ME), Murkowski (R-AK), and Kirk (R-IL). Eleven Senators cosponsored the Shaheen amendment including: State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chairman Leahy (D-VT) and Sens. Harkin (D-IA), Collins (R-ME), Murray (D-WA), Merkley (D-OR), Tester (D-MT), Feinstein (D-CA), Begich (D-AK), Coons (D-DE), Kirk (R-IL), and Durbin (D-IL). Chairman Leahy spoke in support of Sen. Shaheen’s initiative. Only subcommittee Ranking Member Graham (R-SC) spoke in opposition, stating the obvious — that the provision would be unacceptable to their House counterparts.

Other important pro-family planning policy provisions are also included in the Senate bill. The bill alters the ban on abortion for Peace Corps volunteers by incorporating exceptions for life, rape, and incest. This change means volunteers would have the same coverage available to Peace Corps employees and other women in federal government service. The bill also includes an exemption, currently provided to all other global health sectors, allowing FP/RH programs done in cooperation with governments to also continue when other U.S. foreign aid to the country has been cut off.

Now for the bad news. This past Tuesday, the House State-Foreign Operations subcommittee approved a draft FY 2015 bill that guts FP/RH funding, explicitly prohibits a U.S. contribution to UNFPA, reinstates the Global Gag Rule legislatively, and continues the ban on coverage for abortion for Peace Corps volunteers under any circumstances. This is a replay of the low funding level and bad policy “riders” included in the House version of the bill for the last three fiscal years.

The subcommittee-approved bill caps total FP/RH funding at “not more than” $461 million, a $149 million or 24 percent reduction from current FY 2014 enacted levels. It also zeroes out UNFPA in the International Organizations and Programs account that funds voluntary contributions to UN agencies. A table comparing funding levels in the House and Senate versions of the FY 2015 bill with the current FY 2014 levels and the President’s FY 2015 budget request follows below.

The Gag Rule rider included in the subcommittee bill prohibits funding to any foreign nongovernmental organization that “promotes or performs abortion, except in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus where carried to term.”

The subcommittee-approved bill will be marked-up by the full House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday morning, when FP/RH champions on the committee are expected to offer amendments challenging some of these egregious policy riders. Stay tuned for further developments early next week.

 (In millions of dollars) FY 2014 FY 2015 President’s Budget Request FY 2015 House subcommittee draft FY 2014 Senate committee-approved
Global Health Programs Account (523.95) 538 (539)
Economic Support Fund 71 (67.8)
Total, bilateral FP/RH 575 609 461 606.8
U.S. contribution to UNFPA (IO&P) 35 35.3 0 37.5
Total, bilateral & multilateral FP/RH 610 644.3 461 (644.3)

NOTE: FP/RH funding levels that were earmarked in the statute are indicated in bold, while funding levels that were specified in report language are denoted in (parentheses).