As revelations about corruption and criminality in the Trump White House continue to pour forth on what feels like a daily (hourly?) basis, it can be difficult to remember that anything else is happening. On the Hill, however, bills are moving, votes are being recorded, and the business of government continues.
Senate Republicans Use Appropriations Shortcut to Avoid Loss on Global Gag Rule
In our last issue, I reported that the House had finished its work on the Fiscal Year 2020 State Department Foreign Operations spending bill. As a reminder, the bill called for a minimum investment of $750 million for bilateral international family planning programs and $55.5 million for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and included language permanently repealing the Global Gag Rule. In mid-June, it came to the House floor as part of a “minibus” spending package—a package of several departments’ spending bills grouped together for debate and votes. Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), along with 14 Republican cosponsors, offered an amendment to eliminate the family planning funding requirement. All Democrats present voted against the amendment, with two exceptions: Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois and Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota. All Republicans present voted in support. It failed 188-225. The minibus, with the pro-family planning provisions intact, ultimately passed 227-194.
The passage of a House bill with such strong provisions on international family planning created a conundrum for Senate Republicans. Both Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and both have long track records in support of family planning, including opposing the Global Gag Rule. The committee was set to take up its version of the bill in mid-September, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) was expected to offer an amendment, similar to the one passed by the House, which would increase international family planning funding and eliminate the Global Gag Rule. If language repealing the Gag Rule passed the Senate committee with bipartisan support, removing it later on in the process would be difficult.
Republican leadership responded by taking the bill off the schedule the day before it was supposed to be considered. Ultimately, they resorted to what’s known as a “Chairman’s Mark” and passed the bill out of committee without allowing amendments. The bill funds international family planning programs at $632.5 million, allocates $32.5 million of that total for UNFPA, and is silent on the Global Gag Rule. As of our press deadline, there was no word on when, or whether, the bill might come to the Senate floor.
In late September, with the fiscal year ending on September 30 and no chance the appropriations process would be completed before then, Congress passed—and Donald Trump signed—a seven-week continuing resolution to fund the government at current levels through November 21.
Freshman House Member Champions UNFPA
In July, the Trump administration announced it will withhold funding from UNFPA for the third year in a row. (Note: Funding appropriated for the agency will be redirected to other women’s health programs, according to the administration.) In response, freshman Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), joined by Reps. Nita Lowey (D-NY), Lois Frankel (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Jackie Speier (D-CA), and Diana DeGette (D-CO), introduced the Support UNFPA Funding Act of 2019 (H.R. 4722).
The bill authorizes funding for UNFPA and its work in more than 150 countries around the world. UNFPA works to make family planning and safe delivery services available to some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. The agency is a leading provider of reproductive health care in humanitarian and crisis settings, is at the forefront of the effort to prevent and treat obstetric fistula, is working to end female genital mutilation/cutting, and is funding programs around the world to combat gender-based violence. The bill currently has 102 cosponsors.
Investing in healthier women is investing in a more secure and peaceful world. UNFPA’s work is critical, and they are often the first and only line of defense for displaced women. Study after study has shown that achieving global peace is only possible if we empower women, girls, and families. I am disappointed in this administration’s refusal to fund the important work UNFPA does for the health of women and, by extension, our national security. That is why I’m proud to stand with my colleagues and introduce this legislation to help build a safer world for everyone by elevating women and girls around the globe.”
–Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA)
Trump Administration Continues to Thwart Progress at the UN
At a September meeting of the UN General Assembly, the Trump administration continued its campaign to undermine protections for reproductive health in the international arena, calling for the phrase “sexual and reproductive health and rights” to be dropped from UN documents. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar spoke to the assembly, telling the delegates, “We do not support references to ambiguous terms and expressions, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights in UN documents, because they can undermine the critical role of the family and promote practices like abortion.”
Prior to the meeting, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary Azar sent a letter to governments believed to be sympathetic to the administration’s regressive position, asking them to become signatories on a joint statement opposing UN attempts to “create a new international right to abortion and promote… policies that weaken the family.”
A Note of Thanks
On October 10, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) announced that this term will be her last as a member of Congress. First elected in 1988, Mrs. Lowey became the first woman of either party to lead the powerful House Appropriations Committee. During her years in the House, she has been a tireless advocate for reproductive rights, both here in the U.S. and around the world. She has led the fight against the Global Gag Rule, championed funding for international family planning, and spoken out at every opportunity against those who would limit the rights of vulnerable people everywhere. We owe her an enormous debt of gratitude for her many years of service, and we wish her a joyful retirement.