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We will not go back on women’s health and rights

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In our collective years in Congress, we have witnessed – and fought against – repeated efforts to restrict women’s access to health care in the U.S. and around the world.

But we have never seen anything quite like this.

{mosads}The Trump administration has done more to roll back international women’s reproductive health and rights in its first two years than others have in all our years of service. Its harmful policies and shortsighted funding cuts to international assistance impact the world’s most vulnerable and undermine our country’s hard-fought progress on global health and human rights.

First the Global Gag Rule cut off family planning funding to any foreign nongovernmental organization that advocates, provides, refers, or even gives information about abortion. It doesn’t matter if abortion is legal in the country or if non-U.S. funds are used.

The Trump administration not only reinstated this draconian policy, it expanded the Global Gag Rule to all of global health, impacting 15 times more funding than ever before. This Gag Rule doesn’t just impact reproductive health services — men, women and children seeking treatment for malaria, tuberculosis, malnutrition, and HIV/AIDS are losing access to lifesaving care.

Next came the harmful – and purely political – decision to block funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). UNFPA works in more than 150 countries – three times as many as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) – to provide critical reproductive health services like voluntary family planning, safe childbirth, and fistula repair. UNFPA is also on the front line of combating horrors like child marriage and female genital mutilation. Oftentimes, UNFPA is the first, and sometimes the only, aid agency helping women in the world’s most dire humanitarian crises like Yemen and Syria. Its work cannot be replaced.

Most recently, the State Department’s annual Human Rights Report stripped language related to women’s reproductive rights, disregarding the indisputable truth that women’s rights are human rights. The elimination of reproductive health from these annual reports indicates the U.S. is retreating from our historic role as a leader on women’s equality.

All the while, the president’s budget requests have either eliminated or slashed U.S. foreign assistance for international reproductive health and family planning. Cuts like these, layered on top of the Global Gag Rule and the defunding of UNFPA, would have devastating consequences for women and their families.

These seemingly abstract policies have very real impacts. To name just a few: the Global Gag Rule has caused mass confusion on the ground, leading some of our most trusted partners to shutter their doors and cut off needed services to women and families. Due to the prohibition on funding to UNFPA, the U.S. can no longer support a safe birthing clinic in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan where more than 9,000 babies have been born safely to Syrian women fleeing violence and devastation. What will these women do now?

Our country’s threat to slash funding for global family planning jeopardizes contraceptive access for the 25 million women and couples who count on our support.

For more than 50 years, the U.S. has been a leader in supporting international family planning and reproductive health – including as a founding member of UNFPA – which has saved lives, empowered women, and transformed communities and countries. It is now up to Congress to make it clear to the Trump administration that we will not go back. As we work with fellow appropriators to negotiate federal spending bills for FY2019, we are offering four amendments to the foreign aid bill: one to reverse and permanently prohibit the Global Gag Rule, one to restore critical funding to UNFPA, one to preserve funding for international family planning programs, and one to require the State Department to include information on reproductive health in their annual human rights reports.

These four amendments all boil down to one core value: a woman’s fundamental right to plan her family and her future.  We cannot forget the ripple effects of growth and prosperity that a woman can spark when her rights are fulfilled: healthier children, greater education, prosperous families, safer societies, and stronger economies. 

Now is the time to build on progress, not reverse it. We call on all our colleagues in Congress to stand with us on these amendments and put an end to the political game that is jeopardizing the health and rights of women around the world.

Lowey is ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee. Lee, Ryan and Clark are Appropriation Committee members.

Tags global gag rule Mexico City Policy Reproductive rights Women's rights
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