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Seven Billion Reasons
Posted on Oct 26, 2011
By Suzanne Petroni
These are daunting numbers, almost as unfathomable as that looming 7 billion figure. But there’s no need to turn away because the scope of the problem is simply too large to comprehend. The fact is, we actually know how to solve these problems. The ICPD laid out a plan, and it can work.
Those 179 countries meeting in Cairo in 1994 had it right: Invest in health education and rights, especially for women and girls around the world, and millions can be lifted out of poverty and hunger. Such investments reduce maternal morbidity and mortality, prevent child marriage, end the scourge of unsafe abortion, and ensure greater equality between men and women. All it takes is some political will and a remarkably small amount of support from the U.S. government.
In other words, we can save the world but we’re not.
U.S. support for international family-planning programs began some 50 years ago, with broad bipartisan support. Over time, however, conservatives—including Republicans in Congress—have increasingly sought to limit U.S. funding for such programs, and have successfully added a dizzying array of restrictions on how that funding can be used.
It’s not that people have changed their minds on the subject. Public opinion research has consistently shown tremendous support among Americans for accessible family-planning services, as well as investments globally in women’s health and empowerment—a critical component of U.S. foreign policy. According to American Public Opinion and Global Health (May 2009), 68 percent of Americans support “helping poor countries provide family-planning and reproductive-health services to their citizens.” Some 77 percent support “improving the health of mothers and children in poor countries.” And, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 85 percent of Americans think it is important for the U.S. government to “promote the rights of women” in developing countries.
Despite these statistics, conservatives continue to escalate their attacks on not only domestic programs but on international reproductive health. While the U.S. House vote to defund Planned Parenthood received much media attention earlier this year, similar attempts by House Republicans to defund the United Nations Population Fund have gone largely unnoticed. UNFPA works in some 150 countries, supporting programs that help women deliver healthy babies and survive delivery, enable couples to determine the number and spacing of their children, reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, and end the harmful practice of female genital mutilation.
The conservative excuse for defunding Planned Parenthood has been that part of the organization’s mission is to provide safe abortions (although not with U.S. funds). But UNFPA, even though it doesn’t promote or provide abortions, has still been the subject of a decades-long partisan game of ping-pong. Every Republican president since Ronald Reagan has withheld funding for this important agency, while every Democratic president has restored it. Employing the blatantly false pretext that UNFPA supports China’s one-child policy and condones abortions and sterilizations, conservative politicians try to score points with their constituents, while the neediest women in the world suffer very real and tragic consequences.
Meanwhile, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) has not yet done what many expect him to do this year, which is to reintroduce the “Global Gag Rule,” which prohibits U.S. funding for family-planning organizations that—with their own funds—lobby on, counsel on or provide abortion services. The rule has also been in place during every Republican administration since 1984 and rescinded by every Democratic one. In many regions of the world, those defunded groups are often the sole providers of basic health care to women, men and youth.
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