Dems press Trump to restore family planning funding

Dems press Trump to restore family planning funding
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Scores of House Democrats are pressing the Trump administration to reinstate funding for an international program dedicated to family planning and women’s reproductive health. 

The State Department earlier this month announced it would pull all U.S. funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), citing concerns that the money would subsidize coercive abortion services overseas, particularly in China. 

In a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Democrats contend those concerns are unfounded, warning that the decision to halt U.S. funds — slated to top $32 million this year — threatens the lives of countless low-income women around the globe.

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“UNFPA does not currently support — nor has ever supported or participated in — the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization,” the lawmakers wrote. 

The program “works in more than 150 countries to facilitate safe births, protect girls from child marriage and female genital mutilation, and provide access to voluntary contraception for women and men,” they added. “In more than 100 of these countries, [the United States Agency for International Development] does not operate a family planning program, rendering UNFPA’s presence all the more crucial.”

The letter was signed by 97 House Democrats, including Reps. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.) and Diana DeGette (Colo.), who head the House Pro-Choice Caucus; Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus; Nita Lowey (N.Y.), ranking member of the Appropriations Committee; Eliot Engel (N.Y.), senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee; and John Lewis (Ga), the civil rights icon. 

The issue is highly partisan. Republican presidents since Ronald Reagan have sought to rein in global family planning programs, and both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush halted U.S. funding for the UNFPA. Former Presidents Clinton and Obama, meanwhile, supported the program during their tenure. 

Trump’s position on abortion has fluctuated dramatically over the years, but on the campaign trail he adopted a strong anti-abortion rights approach, and in one of his earliest moves from the White House he signed an executive order blocking federal funding for any international group that provides or “promotes” the procedure.

In announcing its decision to eliminate UNFPA funding, the State Department singled out the program’s partnership with China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission, which manages Beijing’s “two-child policy,” installed in 2015 as a scaled-back version of its decadeslong “one-child policy.” 

The Democrats roundly reject the administration’s argument, noting that examinations under the past two administrations have found no evidence to support claims that the UNFPA’s work in China underwrites coercive abortions.  

“Under this logic, any U.S.-funded entity that operates in a country in which the state is engaged in human rights violations would be guilty of those violations itself,” the lawmakers wrote. 

“We believe this to be a lazy assumption that will cost lives that could have been saved by aid agencies like UNFPA.”