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.

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