Tuesday, December 15, 2009

73 Members of Congress Urge Obama: Make Real Investment in Family Planning

Late last week, 73 members of the House sent a letter to the White House urging the Obama administration to provide one billion dollars in funding for international family planning in his 2011 budget.

The letter highlights the many benefits that such an investment will bring: environmental security, political stability and maternal and child survival. Indeed, a recent report from UNFPA and the Guttmacher Institute makes clear that real investment in family planning is critical to making dramatic health improvements.

UNFPA also recently released its 2009 State of World Population Report making a compelling argument that increased funding for family planning around the world is a key component of both climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The congressional letter follows some very important progress. Over the weekend, both the House and Senate passed legislation to increase U.S. support for family planning around the world to $648 million – nearly a 40 percent increase from just two years ago, and more than a hundred million more than last year. This increase will allow more than 3.5 million more women to use contraceptives. But there are more than 200 million women who want to prevent or delay pregnancy but have no access to birth control, so much more needs to be done. That’s why we are encouraged by the strong support shown by Congress for real investment in family planning.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Appropriations Finale Brings Real Progress, and some Disappointment

Late yesterday a House-Senate conference met and finalized a “minibus” appropriations bill for FY 2010.

All in all, the outcome is quite positive, with one big disappointment. First the bad news, the conference report does not include a provision – added to the Senate bill by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) -- that would prohibit a future president from unilaterally acting to reinstate the Global Gag Rule.

The good news is that the bill will provide $648 million for international family planning programs -- an increase of more than $100 million from the current level. Of that total, $55 million will be provided to UNFPA. In addition, the Labor/HHS/Education portion of the bill eliminates funding for Community Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) and provides $114 million for a new “evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention program” that will allow federal funding to be used for real sex education. Finally, the bill will repeal the long standing ban on the District of Columbia using local revenues to provide abortion services to low-income women.

Each of these is an important victory. The increased funding for international family planning programs will allow more than 3.5 million additional women to use contraceptives and will prevent more than 2 million unintended pregnancies. The shifting of funding from incomplete, abstinence-only to real teen pregnancy prevention means that American youth will finally be given the information they need to make healthy responsible decisions about sex, and will finally be told the truth about ways they can prevent unwanted pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections. And finally, the people of DC can make their own decision about the use of their own tax dollars for abortion services.

It seems that in the end, the gag rule issue got tangled up in the debate and discussion of domestic abortion and reproductive health politics and policies. The ongoing debates around the issues as they relate to health reform also played a role in the final outcome. It’s a reminder that members of congress don’t necessarily separate these issues in their own minds the way we do. We think of the gag rule as an issue of global access to family planning – to many of them, it’s just another abortion issue. Negotiators decided they could only pick so many fights on contentious issues, and the gag rule, to them, was one too many. I remain hopeful, however, that we can make a renewed push for this legislation in the coming months and that it can be passed into law in 2010.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Copenhagen Talks Not Just About Energy

By John Seager

As world leaders convene the Copenhagen climate talks, discussion has focused on the need for wealthy countries to reduce emissions. Far less attention has been paid to the inevitable reality that emissions in the poorest parts of the world need to increase. And there has been scant recognition of the role played by rapid population growth in rising emissions worldwide.

President Obama is taking a bold first step in Copenhagen by putting forward an ambitious emissions target for the United States. Yet global population growth threatens to undercut - even cancel - all progress. Global population may grow by 18% or more from 2005 to 2020, according to UN projections.

Reducing carbon emissions is actually three separate but related challenges. First, we must reduce global emissions. Second, we must slow population growth by supporting programs such as voluntary family planning. Third, we must recognize that about half the world now suffers from "carbon starvation" and needs to increase emissions.

Historically, as population has increased, emissions have also risen. Most emissions reductions must occur in wealthier countries since that's where they are highest. At the same time, in order to give billions of poor people a reasonable quality of life, emissions in some parts of the world must increase significantly. Rapid population growth makes this balancing act even more difficult.

Given available technology, the often-tiny carbon footprints of billions of people are both a cause and an effect of impoverishment. The one billion people who struggle to survive on less than $1/day use very little in the way of fossil fuels. And the additional 1.6 billion living on less than $2/day hardly use more. In order to have decent lives, they must increase their emission levels substantially, despite advances in green technology.

Much of sub-Saharan Africa is mired in the most desperate, grinding poverty imaginable. Governments there are already unable to meet the most basic needs of their citizens. And it is these people - who contribute least to climate change - who will suffer most from the problems that climate change brings. Women especially will face new challenges to their health, livelihoods, and even their lives.

Africa's per-capita emissions must increase. But, if Africa's population grows by the 39% that is projected by 2020, it will be nearly impossible to create a healthy quality of life for people in that part of the world.

Population growth will undermine all efforts to achieve lower carbon emissions unless investments in clean energy are matched by equally comprehensive investments in universal access to contraception along with other health and development programs.

As we develop hybrid cars and the like, what about the other half of the world? Will they be left to sweat and starve while we glide forward into a century of renewable energy? Their carbon footprint needs to grow. That can only work if we are willing to meet the population growth challenge.

This is one of those times - and one of those issues - where we need to keep our eye on multiple goals. Reducing emissions is an energy issue. But it is also in equal measure a human rights challenge, one that must include unprecedented investments in a full spectrum of reproductive health services for women and couples. Worldwide, 200 million women have an unmet need for family planning. And demand for contraception is projected to increase by 40% in just 15 years.

If we fail to act on this broader agenda, initiatives for reducing greenhouse gases will be swept away by a tidal wave of population growth. The White House has already made great strides in reversing the pernicious policies of the Bush Administration which turned a blind eye to the needs of billions. But additional bold action is needed.

No doubt President Obama is keenly aware of the multiple dimensions of the climate challenge. Yes, it's about energy. But, more than that, it is about meeting the basic human needs of soon-to-be seven billion people. Universal access to family planning must be a centerpiece of the climate change agenda in Copenhagen and beyond.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Stupak Amendment Blame Game

There has been a lot of discussion lately in the blogosphere and op-ed columns about what how and why the Stupak amendment passed the House. One of the themes getting a lot of play here in DC is that we were put on the path to Stupak when “the Democrats” decided after the 2004 elections to aggressively recruit and support anti-choice candidates for Congress.

The facts simply don’t support this. Of the 64 Democrats who supported the Stupak amendment, only 14 were first elected in 2006 and 2008. Of the remaining 50, many have been in office for decades. In fact, the Democratic House classes elected in both 2006 and 2008 are more pro-choice than the House Democratic Caucus as a whole.

The fact is that there have always been anti-choice Democrats in Congress. In the past, though, that was largely balanced by pro-choice Republicans. Today, the balance is gone. The number of pro-choice Republicans can be, at best, counted on one hand. That makes the anti-choice Democrats far more noticeable and, arguably, important. The pro-choice Republicans have largely been replaced by pro-choice Democrats (in New England, for example). Some, of course, have been replaced by anti-choice Republicans (i.e. Dave Reichert for Jennifer Dunn in Washington and Erik Paulsen succeeding Jim Ramstad in Minnesota).

That said, I can’t remember a time when the House – or the Senate – had a true pro-choice majority. It’s undeniable, though, that it’s better now than it has been in the past – but it’s still clearly short of where we need to be.

It’s easy to get frustrated and lash out at allies when something like this happens, but it’s counterproductive. To paraphrase Barney Frank, one of the smartest members of Congress, if what you’re doing makes yourself feel better, it’s probably completely ineffective. We need to focus on making sure the Senate votes down the Stupak amendment, not looking for people to blame for the House passing it.