Spending Bill Boosts Family Planning Funding, But Disappoints on Permanent Gag Rule Repeal

On December 10th, the House of Representatives debated and passed an omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2010 containing a significant funding increase for family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) programs but which dropped a Senate amendment that would have legislatively blocked a future President, hostile to family planning, from unilaterally reimposing the Global Gag Rule.

The omnibus spending package (H.R. 3288) includes six of the seven appropriations bills yet to be enacted into law for FY 2010, including the State-Foreign Operations bill that contains language on funding and policies for international FP/RH programs.  The Senate is expected take up the omnibus in the next few days with a vote on final passage coming as early as Sunday.  Once approved by the Senate, the omnibus will head to the President’s desk for his signature, ideally before the current “continuing resolution,” keeping unfunded federal programs operating, expires on December 18th.

The omnibus contains a number of important FP/RH provisions, including:

  • Funding:  The bill includes a total of $648.5 million for bilateral and multilateral FP/RH programs, an increase of more than $103 million or 19 percent above the FY 2009 enacted level and $55 million more than the President’s budget request.Of the $648.5 million total, $593.5 million is provided to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for bilateral field and centrally-funded programs and $55 million is earmarked for a U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).  The $593.5 million allocated for bilateral programs represents an increase of about $98.5 million above the comparable FY 2009 level of $495 million.  FP/RH programs fared well compared to other non-HIV/AIDS global health programs, which nevertheless enjoyed modest increases such as $54 million more for maternal and child health.
  • UNFPA: The bill contains a statutory earmark of $55 million for a U.S. contribution to UNFPA from the International Organizations and Programs (IO&P) account, which funds the U.S. voluntary contributions to all UN agencies.
  • The omnibus reflects President Obama’s decision to restore a U.S. contribution to UNFPA earlier this year.  Several restrictions governing UNFPA’s use of U.S. funds included in previous years’ appropriations bills remain.  Specifically, UNFPA must maintain U.S. funds in a segregated account, none of which may be spent in China or on abortion.  The U.S. contribution to UNFPA is subject to a “dollar-for-dollar” reduction by the amount that UNFPA plans to spend in China.  Funds appropriated for UNFPA that are not made available to UNFPA due to the operation of any provision of law, would be transferred to USAID for bilateral family planning, maternal health, and reproductive health activities.
  • Global Gag Rule Permanent Fix:  Unfortunately, the omnibus does not contain the Senate Appropriations Committee-approved Lautenberg amendment that would permanently prohibit the President from refusing to fund foreign NGOs solely because they provide medical services, including counseling and referral, that are permitted in their country and are legal in the United States and from imposing free speech restrictions on foreign NGOs not imposed on U.S. organizations receiving U.S. foreign assistance.  Reports from congressional staff suggest that the macro-level politics of the omnibus, as well as debates around domestic abortion issues and continuing political fallout from the health care reform debate, prevented FP/RH supporters in Congress from including a permanent gag rule repeal in the bill.  Advocates will be exploring potential strategies for securing a permanent legislative repeal next year, but the task will not get any easier in 2010, a congressional election year.
  • Other policy issues: The omnibus also contains a host of other significant policy provisions, either in the statute itself or in the accompanying joint explanatory statement, including language on topics such as HIV/AIDS, condoms, abortion funding, informed consent and referral, population and the environment, population and climate change, microbicides, gender-based violence, and maternal health.

Please stay tuned for future developments on the international family planning and reproductive health funding and policies of the United States government.

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