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Rebecca Wind/Joerg Dreweke
U.S. POLICIES UNDERMINE EFFORT TO HELP WOMEN IN POOR COUNTRIES PREVENT UNWANTED PREGNANCIES AND ABORTIONS
Inadequate financial support and a restrictive policy that limits the ability of certain foreign organizations to even receive contraceptive supplies from the United States are undermining the positive impact of U.S. contributions to international family planning efforts, according to “The Global Contraceptive Shortfall: U.S. Contributions and U.S. Hindrances,” by Susan A. Cohen, which appears in the Spring 2006 issue of the Guttmacher Policy Review. To address this problem and improve access to contraceptives for women in developing countries, a bipartisan group in Congress has introduced the Ensuring Access to Contraceptives Act of 2006, which would increase funding for and loosen restrictions on the availability of contraceptive supplies.
According to recent estimates from the United Nations Population Fund, approximately 561 million women in developing countries and their partners are currently using modern contraceptives—helping them prevent at least 187 million unintended pregnancies and 105 million abortions every year. Individuals, governments and nongovernmental organizations in developing countries pay three-quarters of the costs of meeting this current demand. Of the remaining one-quarter, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is the world’s single largest contributor of funds.
Since 2001, however, U.S. family planning assistance has been made available to overseas organizations only if they agree not to provide any abortion services or information, or engage in any efforts to liberalize their own country’s abortion laws. This “global gag rule” complicates the already daunting challenge of meeting the growing demand for contraceptives in developing countries. In some countries, the effect has been disastrous. Ethiopia is now suffering a severe shortage of contraceptive supplies, and organizations in Kenya and Ghana have had to terminate or curtail their community-based distribution programs, which are often the only means for getting contraceptives to women and men in rural and remote areas.
“Americans deserve much credit for their contributions to helping women in developing countries have the number of children they want and are prepared to care for. But ideologically driven U.S. government policies impede proven and successful family planning programs in resource-poor countries,” says Susan A. Cohen, director of government affairs with the Guttmacher Institute. “It is ironic that a U.S. policy that purportedly aims to reduce abortion actually makes it harder for responsible women to obtain the contraceptives they need to time and space their childbearing without resorting to abortion.”
The Ensuring Access to Contraceptives Act of 2006 is a response to the self-defeating nature of the U.S. policy from a bipartisan group of lawmakers representing both sides of the abortion-rights divide. It would exempt contraceptives from the global gag rule, while doubling to $150 million the amount USAID currently spends on contraceptives.