The Gamble on Global Women’s Rights – The 2012 U.S. Elections

Oct 25th, 2012 | By | Category: Reproductive Rights/Women's Rights

By Suzanne York,

The New York Times recently posted an editorial titled “A World of Harm for Women” that argued that a Mitt Romney presidential win would harm women’s reproductive rights and extend far beyond the borders of the United States.  It would indeed.

Romney has pledged to reinstate the Global Gag Rule. This policy puts a ban on U.S. funding to a wide range of organizations, from those that just offer advice on where to get an abortion all the way to those that provide abortion services. This includes groups that educate people on the need to make safe abortion available.

Apparently Mr. Romney doesn’t care that 222 million women in developing countries want access to family planning services but do not have that access, and doesn’t understand that helping them is both critical to helping them… and helping provide a better future for all of us on the planet.

He also must have missed the news from the London Summit on Family Planning this past July. This was a high-level gathering sponsored by the Gates Foundation and the UK Department for International Development. There, donors pledged to provide $2.6 billion over the next eight years to help the world’s 120 million poorest women gain access to voluntary family planning information, services and supplies by 2020. It has been called a “breakthrough for the world’s poorest women and girls,” with more than 20 developing countries making commitments to increase spending on family planning.

U.S. support toward international family planning and reproductive health programs amounted to $610 million in 2012, with $35 million of that earmarked for the United Nations Population Fund. According to the Guttmacher Institute, this level of funding makes it possible for:

  • 31.6 million women and couples to receive contraceptive services and supplies;
  • 9.4 million unintended pregnancies and 4.1 million unplanned births to be averted;
  • 4 million induced abortions to be averted (3 million of them unsafe);
  • 22,000 maternal deaths to be averted; and
  • 96,000 fewer children to lose their mothers.

Many on the conservative right, including Mr. Romney, seem to enjoy putting down the United Nations Population Fund and want to cut off its U.S. funding, despite the organization’s decades of solid work supporting women and men around the world.

The mission of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is to“reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.”

UNFPA has just launched a new campaign called Safe Birth. Even Here. It addresses the health care of women refugees, where one in five women are likely to be pregnant. Female refugees are often exposed to trauma, malnutrition, disease and violence. They desperately need maternal health services and proper clinics for childbirth.

Another initiative is School for Husbands, launched by the UN Population Fund, where married men are educated on reproductive health in order to improve access to maternal and newborn health services, and sexual and reproductive health issues are discussed. The schools are endorsed by traditional and religious leaders, and bring together well-respected men in the community to discuss specific concerns centered on reproductive health. As of March 2012, 137 schools have been established in southern Niger, with more set to open in the western part of the country.

Cutting international family planning assistance and completely defunding the UNFPA would be a big set-back, to say the least, for people all over the world. International funding for family planning in 2010 was $491.7 million. Compare that to the paycheck of Tim Cook, CEO of Apple and the highest paid executive on Wall Street; his compensation is valued at $378 million.

U.S. foreign assistance comprises about 1% of the U.S. federal budget. A Romney win would most likely significantly reduce foreign aid assistance, especially to family planning and reproductive health programs, and include a ban on UNFPA funding. Many women and their families in developing countries will suffer. And in the U.S., Americans will lose access to free contraceptives under Obamacare’s mandate to provide birth control without a co-pay.

Yes, the U.S. election will certainly be a gamble on women’s rights.

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

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