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The Planet

December 1997, Volume 4, number 10

Less Funding, More Restrictions for Family Planning

by Marceline White

International Population Campaign Director

Bolivian mothers trying to have smaller families and Ukrainian teenagers who want to avoid abortions by learning about birth control are among those who took a hit from the U.S. Congress before it recessed in November.

First, Congress passed a foreign operations spending bill with an international family planning funding level of $385 million -- far short of the $435 million requested by President Clinton and passed by the Senate.
To make matters worse, the House approved a metering provision, which means funding will be distributed in monthly installments of about 8 percent of their allotment. This restriction severely damages the operations of family planning and reproductive health centers around the world.

For instance, startups of new family planning and health clinics in Bolivia will be postponed at best and possibly canceled. Representatives for the U.S. Agency for International Development, which administers the program in Bolivia, say metering will be devastating as two years of restrictions have already resulted in "stop and go" services due to erratic funding.

In Ukraine, delays in funding due to metering have interrupted support for an integrated family planning/maternal health program and a communications health program designed to make women aware of the availability of contraceptive services that are desperately needed to prevent abortions.

Despite these setbacks, supporters of family planning were able to foil conservative House members' attempts to attach the restrictive Mexico City policy and another measure that would delay distribution of funds. President Clinton had pledged to veto any spending bill that included the Mexico City policy, which keeps U.S. funds from going to family planning centers that perform or promote abortions using their own money.

Conservatives in the House like Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who tacked the Mexico City amendment onto many prominent pieces of legislation to try and force the president to capitulate, claim to be pro-life. But in reality, denying funds for family planning only increases abortion rates. Studies in Eastern Europe have shown that as women gain access to family planning services, the abortion rate declines. As columnist Molly Ivins noted, "Only the most extreme anti-abortion groups favor this amendment; many legislators who oppose abortion are also opposed to this folly."

Their attempts are also at odds with the views of more than 60 percent of Americans, who support making contraception available to those who wish to plan their families.

Since the Sierra Club's population program launched its campaign to obtain full funding for international family planning programs (as mandated by the United Nations' Amsterdam Declaration five years ago), U.S. funding for international population assistance has dramatically increased from an annual level of $270 million to the record high of $585 million in the 1995 fiscal year before the Republican-led Congress cut it. U.S. funding has leveraged other nations' contributions so that family planning services are available to 55 percent of couples worldwide, compared to 10 percent in 1960.

Increasing family-planning funding -- and doing away with metering -- are the top priorities for population activists next year.

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