Congress Should Continue Aid for Family Planning Abroad

By the end of 2012, the world's population will reach 7 billion. To ensure a healthy population increase, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is working to empower at least 215 million women around the world with family planning education and services. Currently in the U.S., Congress is once again debating how to invest in these programs. The State and Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee in the House of Representatives has campaigned against U.S. assistance for family planning abroad, citing issues with countries and agencies that perform abortions.
 
Several hundred thousand women die annually due to pregnancy-related difficulties, often from unintended pregnancies. Many more are impacted by health issues post-pregnancy, due in large part to the lack of reproductive education that one can find readily in the U.S. If the legislative cuts proposed by the congressional committees make it through, the U.S. will stop contributing to the UNFPA and cut its funding for all international reproductive programs by 25%. 
 
For the last 30 years, each state within the U.S. has been given the right to frame its own laws and investments in reproductive rights and services without interference from the federal government. This has been protected under rights to liberty and privacy within the U.S. Women abroad are obviously not protected by American rights and freedoms, but it would be equally as unjust, as well as a violation of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, for Congress to cut funding for the UNFPA. 
 
It is important for the U.S. to treat sovereign nations with the respect they deserve by funding international reproductive education and services without placing conditions on which services may or may not be funded. Congress should allow governments and agencies that accept funding from the U.S. or the UNFPA to decide for themselves how to structure their reproductive health programs. As champions of states’ rights domestically, Republicans are being hypocritical by placing limitations on sovereign nations.
 
Of course, as Congress continues to debate budget cuts and attack reproductive health programs domestically, it is idealistic to expect that it will not decrease international assistance. Furthermore, since foreign assistance represents a large portion of the U.S. budget, Congress should have some control over how money is spent.

But, if the U.S. only wishes to fund programs that exclude abortion services from their activities, then it should seek out agencies and organizations that meet those criteria, rather than cutting funding for the UNFPA completely or placing restrictive conditions on other sovereign nations. UNFPA is an organization that does not actually encourage abortion as a birth control means, but instead calls for safer procedures in countries where the practice is legal. Saving women from unsafe clinics does not sound like something the U.S. should be against.

Reproductive education and services not only ensure healthy babies and mothers but also empower women to finish school or find a viable income before having children. This is not only good for health, but also the economy as women are empowered and able to both contribute to the workforce and care for future working generations. As the world's population increases in some of the poorest countries around the world, it is imperative that funding for international reproductive health continues freely.

Photo Credit: Hdptcar

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Katie Gresham

A graduate of American University's International Peace and Conflict Resolution program, Katie currently lives in London where she works with well-known international development NGOs. She has a keen interest in international affairs skewed towards development and conflicts issues. She has augmented her academic studies with trips to Northern Ireland, Kenya, Cyprus and the Balkans.

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