UN Environment Programme Issues Blueprint for Addressing Environmental Crises
A new report issued by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Making Peace With Nature, offers a science-based road map for how to tackle climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals. It points out that environmental challenges are undermining progress in meeting development goals and that the problem will only become worse if humanity does not radically alter its relationship with nature. It emphasizes that the coming decade is a critical period for determining our long-term environmental trajectory and that environmental preservation and human well-being must be addressed jointly if we are to have any chance at a sustainable future.
United Kingdom Cuts Aid to UNFPA by 85 Percent
In an astounding move described as “devastating” by one official, the United Kingdom has announced that it plans to decrease its funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) by 85 percent. Instead of the £154 million (USD $215 million) originally promised for the purchase of contraceptive supplies, the organization will receive only £23 million ($32 million). Core funding will be cut from £20 million ($28 million) to £8 million ($11 million).
Even more shockingly, these cuts are being made despite the fact that signed agreements for the higher amounts are already in place—a practically unheard-of breach of faith on the part of a donor government. The cuts come as the UK commits to lowering its overall international development assistance budget to 0.5 percent of gross national income, down from 0.7 percent.
Black Maternal Health “Momnibus” Bill Reintroduced
A package of bills aimed at reducing Black maternal deaths has been reintroduced in the U.S. House and Senate. The so-called “Momnibus” (a play on the word “omnibus,” which describes a group of bills treated as a single measure) includes 12 bills intended to address multiple facets of the Black maternal health crisis in the U.S., where Black people have a three-to-four-times higher risk of death from pregnancy, birth, or postpartum complications than their white counterparts.
While the prior version of the Momnibus contained nine bills, the new version adds measures intended to help combat the heightened COVID-19 toll among Black people as well as a new initiative highlighting the association between pollution and pre-term birth. The bill is led in the House by Lauren Underwood (D-IL) and Alma Adams (D-NC) and in the Senate by Cory Booker (D-NJ).
Texas Blocks Planned Parenthood From Medicaid Program
On March 10, a Texas judge ruled that the state could proceed with its plan to ban Planned Parenthood from participating in the state’s Medicaid program. The effort, which began in 2016, was delayed by lawsuits in federal courts until early 2020, when the notoriously conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Texas. Planned Parenthood then unsuccessfully attempted further litigation at the state level, arguing that Texas had not properly followed notification procedures.
Texas has one of the lowest income thresholds in the country for Medicaid eligibility. A single parent with two children would have to make no more than $230 per month to qualify. A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood South Texas said that Medicaid recipients accounted for about 10 percent of patients in the area.
COVID-19 Has Disrupted Global Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Efforts on Multiple Fronts
The COVID-19 pandemic has stalled advancement on a whole array of human rights and development goals, and there is evidence that it may actually reverse progress in some instances. In a joint statement, the executive directors of UNICEF and UNFPA warned that there may be an additional 2 million cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) over the coming decade as the pandemic has closed schools and disrupted programs aimed at preventing the practice, which has no health benefits and frequently leads to lifelong complications.
In a separate analysis, UNICEF found that the same disruptions may lead to up to 10 million additional girls at risk of child marriage over the same period. Economic stress and parental deaths are also cited as risk factors that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Girls who marry as children face both immediate and long-term consequences. They are more likely to end schooling, face domestic violence, and have an increased probability of early and unplanned pregnancy, both of which increase the likelihood of complications and death.
In both cases, only sustained and committed action by governments and other stakeholders can avert these potential outcomes.
State of the States: Roundup of New U.S. Abortion Bills and Laws
In late April, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed a bill into law that bans abortion in cases where the fetus has a survivable genetic defect. Any doctor who knowingly performs such an abortion could be charged with a felony. The bill also contains a fetal personhood provision and a requirement that fetal remains be buried or cremated, forbids state universities from offering abortion, and bans mail delivery of abortion medication. Court challenges are inevitable but had not been filed at the time of the print deadline for this issue.
In March, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed a bill that would ban abortion except to save the life of the pregnant person. The bill is explicitly intended to give the Supreme Court an opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade. It would not take effect until later in the summer but is expected to be blocked by the courts well before then.
In late April, Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed a bill that bans abortion in the state after 20 weeks’ gestation, requires doctors to offer patients an opportunity to view an ultrasound before the procedure, and places multiple restrictions on the use of medication abortion, including requiring that the medication be administered in person rather than via telehealth. No information about potential lawsuits was available at the time of our deadline.
A new state law banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected—usually around six weeks into a pregnancy—was blocked by a federal judge who said that the case “does not present a close call. … In fact, based on the law, the Court is unable to fathom how another court could decide this issue differently than how this Court has decided it.” The law is yet another attempt to create an opportunity for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe.
In March, Gov. Kristi Noem (R) signed a law banning abortion in cases where genetic testing indicates that the fetus may have Down syndrome. Providers who are aware of the diagnosis but perform an abortion anyway may be charged with a felony.
A pair of Tennessee legislators have introduced a bill that would give men the right to veto a partner’s abortion decision and does not contain any exception for cases of rape or incest. The legislation is not expected to advance. Tennessee is also one of a number of states to have passed a near-total abortion ban in the last year. That law has been blocked by a federal court, but litigation is ongoing.