International health issues have become an important component of US foreign policy. In past years, family planning has been a focus of US efforts to address these concerns. Family planning programs positively influence the health of women and their families, and have a major impact on developing countries and the environment. Family planning services promote healthy pregnancies and births, lower abortion rates, and have the potential to help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. Additionally, these programs reduce the considerable risk that rapid population growth poses to the environment and public health. As a result, resources become available to support improved standards of living and economic growth for entire nations.
In the developing world a woman’s risk of death from maternal causes is 1 in 60, fully 35 times that of her counterparts in developed countries. Each year, some 30 million women experience miscarriage and an additional 43 million terminate their pregnancies through elective abortions, nearly half of which occur in unsafe and clandestine conditions where abortion is illegal or highly restricted. The lack of family planning information and technology to prevent unintended pregnancies creates an extraordinary and avoidable public health threat, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of women. From 1995-2000, nearly 700,000 women died from causes related to unintended pregnancies. Giving women the opportunity to space their children in a healthy way can prevent one in four infant deaths each year in developing countries. And it enables parents to devote more time and money to the children they already have, giving those children a better chance to go further in school and become healthy and productive adults.
According to UNAIDS, as of November 27, 2003 there were in excess of 54,862, 000 HIV infections worldwide. Condoms, femidoms, and basic HIV/AIDS education provided by international family planning groups are vital components in the struggle to address this crisis in the developing world. Most developing countries lack the funds to provide access to good quality reproductive health care and rely on international population assistance. Declining and irregular contributions from donor nations to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), however, threaten these crucial services. In particular, the Bush Administration’s decision to defund UNFPA has had a devastating effect. UNFPA officials estimate that the lost $34 million would have prevented 2,000,000 unwanted pregnancies, nearly 800,000 induced abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths, nearly 60,000 cases of maternal illness or disability, and 77,000 infant and child deaths.
The imposition of the global gag rule compounds the rising threat to women and families. It forbids US family planning assistance to organizations that use funding from any other source to perform abortions in cases other than rape, incest, or a threat to the life of the woman; provide counseling and referral for abortion; or lobby their own governments to legalize abortion or make it safer and more accessible. When women’s access to contraceptive services following abortion are limited, efforts to prevent repeat abortions are impeded. Additionally, some family planning groups have already shown reluctance to treat clients following life-threatening septic and spontaneous abortions, fearing that association with any abortion – even to save a woman’s life – would jeopardize their US funding. Additionally, the global gag rule restricts open communication between women and their trusted health care providers. Prohibiting counseling and/or referrals on abortion makes it impossible for providers to offer the comprehensive health care needed or requested by their clients.
Therefore, the JCPA believe that the US government should support comprehensive international family planning programs. The Administration should:
- Restore the $34 million in funds to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) approved by Congress;
- Repeal the Global Gag Rule;
- Appropriate $5.4 billion to fight global AIDS, TB, and malaria in fiscal year 2005, but not at the expense of other critical development initiatives.
The community relations field should:
- Urge Congress and the Administration to fully fund comprehensive family planning programs;
- Urge Congress to oppose efforts to restrict the services, information and education international family planning programs provide in developing countries.
- Educate the public on the ways in which international family planning programs positively influence the health of women, their families, developing countries and the environment.
- Educate the public on the negative effects of restricting funds for international family planning programs.