Bye-Bye Gag Rule — Hello Family Planning Funding Increases

As expected, on January 23, 2009, President Obama rescinded, by Executive order, the Mexico City Policy/Global Gag Rule and announced that he would ask Congress to fund the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which has been denied US funding for the past eight years.

The President said in his written remarks, “For the past eight years, they have undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning in developing countries…For these reasons, it is right for us to rescind this policy and restore critical efforts to protect and empower women and promote global economic development.”

The President added, “For too long, international family planning assistance has been used as a political wedge issue, the subject of a back and forth debate that has served only to divide us. I have no desire to continue this stale and fruitless debate.”

Alas, politics being what it is, the stale and fruitless debate on this issue flared up almost immediately, and opponents brought motions before the Congress to overturn the President’s repeal of the Global Gag Rule. All these motions failed by wide margins, wide enough so that another proposed bill, which would codify the end of the Global Gag Rule and prevent its re-issuance by future Presidents, is almost certain to pass. That said, politically-motivated future administrators of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) could simply refuse to fund IPPF projects.

As for money for family planning, well, no surprise, given the U.S. financial crisis, there is none — not this fiscal year anyway. Even in the future, there will be little new money for Latin America and the Caribbean. The Western Hemisphere is not high on the list for U.S. foreign aid — the priorities being in Africa and Asia. There is a proposal before Congress from a coalition of international agencies, including IPPF, to increase U.S. funding for family planning to $1 billion a year from its current level, which is about half that amount.

In response to our proposal, on June 17, 2009, a House Appropriations Subcommittee approved $648 million for family planning programs in the 2010 fiscal year appropriations bill, including $588 million for USAID programs and a $60 million contribution to the UN Population Fund.

If enacted, this appropriation would represent a 19 percent increase over the 2009 fiscal year allotment of $545 million. It also marks a 40 percent increase in funding over the past two years.

Progress!

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