During the past half-century, our fight for women’s empowerment has made an extraordinary impact. In the U.S., we helped reduce family size by nearly 50% in just 16 years. In developing nations, such as Mexico, the average family size has dropped from almost 7 to just over 2 today. In 1968, there were only four nations at replacement rate fertility. Today, there are 98.
However, immense challenges remain:
- Nearly half (45%) of the world’s women are of reproductive age (15-44).
- In the world’s poorest countries, only 40% of married woman use modern contraception.
- In less than 30 years, the population of the world’s poorest countries will double.
- More than 300,000 women die each year from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth —with 99% of these deaths occurring in developing countries.
Population Connection is working hard to ensure that women everywhere have access to modern contraceptive methods.
We work with Congress to ensure that the United States is doing everything in its power to help women become empowered, active members of their communities. From fighting to end federal funding for failed abstinence-only sex education programs in the U.S., to urging Congress to appropriate $1 billion for international family planning, Population Connection stands behind women’s right to make the best choices for themselves and their families. When women—and their partners—are able to control their own fertility, they can choose to space and size their families in ways that allow them to thrive. Stable, secure families contribute to stable and sustainable communities, which are vital to ensuring a better quality of life for every inhabitant of our planet.
Specifically, we’re working on:
Permanently Repealing the Global Gag Rule
Since 1965, the United States has been the leader in international family planning assistance. Over the past half-century, American funding and technical expertise have prevented millions of unwanted pregnancies and maternal deaths around the world. But the religious right’s fixation on abortion has prompted two presidential administrations to curb their funding for international family planning programs, with devastating consequences.
Known by opponents as the Global Gag Rule, this ban on funding first took effect in 1984 under President Reagan, at the United Nations International Conference on Population in Mexico City. The repugnant policy was reversed on President Clinton’s first day in office in 1993, but later became a central tenet of the United States’ approach to international family planning during the Bush Administration. President Obama reversed the Gag Rule as one of his first presidential actions, perpetuating its role as a political football.
When the Gag Rule is in place, it forces USAID to provide funding to foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on a conditional basis. No funding can be given to NGOs that perform, discuss, or provide referrals to abortion services. Furthermore, NGOs receiving U.S. funds are prohibited from lobbying for abortion rights in their own countries. Those that refuse to comply with these stipulations have their funding revoked.
Even when it’s not in place, the Gag Rule poses significant challenges. According to Latanya Mapp Frett, Vice President of Planned Parenthood Global, it takes about two years to establish a program once Congress has appropriated funding. “And there’s possibility that, after investing those two years in what you hope will be a sustainable program, you’re faced with a policy that changes your direction. That can be a significant challenge.”
This challenge is compounded by the fact that most U.S. government-funded projects have life spans of five years, and thus extend beyond the next presidential election. Organizations therefore risk an immediate cut-off of funding in the middle of their projects, should an administration hostile to family planning be elected. Many NGOs and government officials are understandably reluctant to enter into partnerships with organizations that may be abruptly defunded.
“The challenges are maintaining the resources and understanding that development happens over decades,” Mapp Frett said. “You have to be there for the long haul, and [U.S. policy changes] make that difficult.”
To rectify this, family planning advocates are pushing for a permanent repeal of the Global Gag Rule. The Global Democracy Promotion Act (GDPA) would create a legal barrier to a unilateral action on the part of any administration. The GDPA was introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY/18). There are 19 cosponsors in the Senate and 107 in the House.
Advocating for $1 Billion in International Family Planning Funding
Even with recent increases, United States funding for international family planning and reproductive health is 32% below the 1995 level. Since 1990, the number of women of reproductive age in the developing world has increased by nearly 50%. Today, almost a quarter-billion women in the developing world would like to prevent or delay pregnancy but lack access to aff ordable and appropriate modern contraceptives. As a result of this unmet need, there are approximately 80 million unintended pregnancies in the developing world each year.
Additionally, this huge unmet need contributes to a host of devastating consequences for the entire world: resource insecurity, social instability, and maternal and child death. If the United States wants to meet these and other 21st century challenges, then it must make a commitment: real investment in family planning and reproductive health.
The U.S. must invest at least $1 billion in international family planning and reproductive health programs in FY 2017. This figure represents the United States’ fair share of the total cost of meeting unmet need for family planning worldwide. It is a sound investment in our future.
Each $100 million spent on family planning means:
- 5.2 million more couples gain access to contraception
- 1.5 million unintended pregnancies avoided
- 700,000 fewer abortions
- 4,000 fewer maternal deaths
- 20,000 fewer children lose their mothers
Today’s generation of young people is the largest in history, with nearly half the world’s population under the age of 25. Ninety percent of these young people live in the developing world, many of them in countries unable to meet the most basic needs of citizens. This reality places much of the developing world at a major crossroads. Giving these young people the tools they need—access to accurate and responsible sex education and family planning and reproductive health services—to expand their opportunities for education, employment, and a healthy, productive future will not only make their lives better, it will strengthen the economic and social stability of developing nations.
Conversely, research has shown that failure to address the needs of this large and growing population is likely to leave those countries at risk of civil unrest and conflict, and have dramatic effects on the stability of the world for decades to come. Resource scarcity and other population pressures place stress on fragile governments and other social structures. Many poor countries already struggle to maintain health care, schooling, agricultural, and urban infrastructure. They also face the greatest risk of political instability.
Real investment in family planning will encourage social stability and decrease the risk of conflict.
Supporting the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Governments in developing countries often need financial and technical help in setting up and maintaining reproductive health programs. They need emergency assistance after natural disasters and warfare, and they need programs that are consistent and reliable. The good news is that one multilateral agency is fully capable of providing such help.
Established in 1969, UNFPA is the largest population assistance organization in the world, currently operating in more than 150 countries. Originally called the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, the organization is still known by its old acronym. UNFPA works in more countries than any other donor agency, and plays a key role in regions where few donors provide population assistance. UNFPA only provides assistance at the request of host governments, and operates only voluntary programs. Often, UNFPA runs programs in conjunction with local or national population assistance organizations.
UNFPA operates in accordance with the Programme of Action, developed in 1994 at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo (ICPD). Its main objectives are to provide universal access to reproductive health services, achieve universal primary education and close the gender gap in education, reduce maternal and infant mortality, increase life expectancy, and reduce HIV infection rates.
UNFPA is funded by voluntary contributions from governments and intergovernmental organizations; it is not part of the regular United Nations budget. In 2010, UNFPA’s income from governments and private donors totaled $491.2 million. The top donors were the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, U.S., Denmark, and Finland. Every single country in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean gave, even if their contributions were small and purely symbolic.
During the Bush Administration, the President withheld congressionally appropriated funding for UNFPA for seven consecutive years, citing unfounded claims that the agency participates in coerced abortion activities in China. This withholding caused the agency to accrue a deficit of approximately $244 million.
After a long hiatus, during the Obama Administration, the United States once again joined over 180 countries to support increased access to reproductive health services around the world. The future of our funding for the agency is uncertain with the new Congress and President-elect Trump on the horizon.