FY 2016 Budget Finally Passes; Senators Condemn the Helms Amendment

Congress Finally Acts on Funding

Just before leaving Washington for the holiday break, congressional leaders released—and both houses passed—a final 2016 funding package. Nearly four months late.

There’s a lot to be happy about in the bill. We, with the steadfast support of our champions on Capitol Hill, largely protected funding for family planning programs in the developing world. House GOP leaders called for slashing funds for our bilateral efforts by 25 percent. They called for reinstating the odious Global Gag Rule that disqualifies the most effective, experienced, and respected providers around the world from receiving aid. They demanded a provision barring any aid to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for its work in some 150 countries—including in some of the most unstable and dangerous places for women in the world. They failed on every count.

On the domestic front, those same Republicans proposed eliminating the sole program—Title X (ten)—dedicated to providing low-income American women with affordable family planning and contraceptive services. We defeated them.

They also failed in their effort to prevent Planned Parenthood clinics across the country from being reimbursed for the care they provide to women receiving Medicaid.

Finally, they were stymied in their effort to include a provision to allow bosses and health plans to deny coverage for birth control if they have a “moral” objection to it and to allow hospitals and other health care providers to refuse to provide abortions even when necessary to save a woman’s life.

Sadly, they were successful in cutting funding to UNFPA by $2.5 million, from $35 million to $32.5 million. That may not sound like much, but it will leave more than 200,000 women in the developing world without access to reproductive health care and contraceptives this year. In a shameless display, those GOP leaders are publicly gloating over this victory.

UNFPA is providing critical care to women facing the most horrific circumstances: refugees fleeing violence in Syria, South Sudan, and Nigeria. Denying those women access to safe delivery services and contraceptives is a travesty, not a victory. Outrage, not celebration, is the proper response.

Official PortraitSen. Blumenthal Calls for Complete Care for Yazidi Victims of ISIL

The Senate passed a resolution condemning sexual violence perpetrated by terrorists against Yazidi girls and women in Iraq. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) made an impassioned plea on the floor of the Senate to ensure that victims who are made pregnant as a result have access to the full range of care they need—including safe abortion.

Sadly, a flawed interpretation of a long-standing U.S. law—known as the Helms amendment—is preventing safe abortion care from being included in our assistance to these girls and women. Blumenthal led 28 senators in urging President Obama to act to clarify that the law allows for safe abortion services for victims of rape and incest and for women whose lives are threatened by pregnancy.

Excerpts from Senator Blumenthal’s Speech on the Senate Floor

“We cannot allow for ISIL to terrorize and disrupt communities, to exert control over women and girls, and in the case of the Yazidis, to impregnate them purposefully and relentlessly. Survivors should not be forced to carry pregnancies to full term simply because access to reproductive health care is not available following their vicious assault. We cannot stand idly by witnessing such. The United States must work to increase access to health care, especially abortion services, and most especially for the Yazidi girls and women who were purposefully impregnated as a tool of terrorism by ISIL.”

“Tomorrow is the 42nd anniversary of the Helms amendment. For its entire existence, it has been incorrectly interpreted, and it continues to serve as a critical obstacle in our foreign aid efforts to provide for safe abortions in the case of rape, incest, and life endangerment … preventing our foreign aid funds from being used for that purpose not only denies critical assistance to the Yazidi girls and women but also overly constrains the assistance of this great nation to the victims of terror and horror abroad.”

“[I]t remains essential that we recognize the full scope of the post-rape health care needed by survivors of rape, who hideously and gruesomely have been victims of a tool of terrorism by ISIL. Fully countering ISIL’s terror strategy means providing necessary and compassionate care for girls and women who have been victims and who have been shunned by their families. They have been rejected by their communities. They have been victims many times over as a result of these crimes, heinous crimes, committed against them.”

“As the world’s largest donor of assistance around the world, the United States can and should do better and do more to provide health care that girls and women vitally need when they become vulnerable and, in fact, victims of terror inflicted by these heinous criminal acts.”

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