Will Congress Come to Bat for Women’s Rights?

Jun 23rd, 2014 | By | Category: Reproductive Rights/Women's Rights

By Suzanne York, www.howmany.org.

Last week there was action around the Global Gag Rule, an on-again, off-again 30-year-old policy detrimental to women’s reproductive health.

The Global Gag Rule denies U.S. foreign assistance to organizations working overseas if they use private, non-U.S. funds to provide referrals, counseling, or access to safe abortion, even when it is legal in the country in question.

Community health worker in Odisha state, India [photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women’s_health_in_India]

Population Connection, in an email to supporters said, “The results of the policy are uniformly harmful: closed clinics, reductions in services, contraceptive shortages. It’s not surprising that researchers from Stanford University found that between 2001 and 2008, when the policy was in effect, abortions in several African countries doubled. Since many of the policy’s proponents claim their goal is to reduce abortion, it’s an abject failure.”

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) offered an amendment to permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule and prevent future presidents who don’t support women’s reproductive health from reinstating this policy unilaterally through executive action.

The Shaheen amendment was adopted with a strong bipartisan margin of 19 to 11.

Craig Lasher, director of U.S. government relations with Population Action International wrote a great analysis of what happened last week.  Here is an excerpt of what he wrote, as of June 20th:

This week, committees in both the House and Senate marked up the State Department and foreign operations appropriations bills for fiscal year 2015, with widely different results for international family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) funding and policy.

The good news:

  • The Senate committee approved a bill with a total of $644.3 million for bilateral and multilateral FP/RH funding from all accounts, including $37.5 million for a U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
  • The Senate committee passed an amendment offered by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen to permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule, preventing a future President who is hostile to women’s health from reinstating this harmful policy unilaterally through executive action.
  • The bill alters the ban on abortion for Peace Corps volunteers by incorporating exceptions for life, rape, and incest.

The bad news:

  • On Tuesday, the House State-foreign operations subcommittee approved a draft FY 2015 bill that guts FP/RH funding by 24 percent from current levels (to $461 million), and explicitly prohibits a U.S. contribution to UNFPA.
  • The subcommittee-approved bill legislatively reimposes the Global Gag Rule.
  • The draft bill also continues the ban on coverage for abortion for Peace Corps volunteers under any circumstances.

Next up: The subcommittee-approved bill will be marked-up by the full House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday morning, when FP/RH champions on the committee are expected to offer amendments challenging some of these harmful policy riders.

Total Fertility Rate [map credit: www.populationconnection.org]

A more in-depth analysis by Mr. Lasher may be viewed here.

By all means, stay tuned.  Will our representatives support women’s rights here and around the world, or is that just not important enough?


Suzanne York is a senior writer with the Institute for Population Studies.

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