Budget cutting fever is sweeping Capitol Hill this week as the House of Representatives debates a temporary spending bill that would slash discretionary spending in 2011. When it comes to family planning, the "fever" has reached viral hemorrhagic proportions. It's like an outbreak of the Ebola virus.
First, House Republicans announced that they wanted to wipe out the Title X Family Planning program. How reasonable is that? Title X is the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing access to contraceptive services, supplies and information to low-income families in the U.S.
Over the past 40 years, Title X family planning clinics have played a vital role in ensuring access to a broad range of family planning and related preventive health services for millions of low-income households. From a budgetary standpoint, few, if any programs, have done as much to promote healthy families, while also reducing government spending. But none of that matters to the budget cutters on Capitol Hill: Contraceptives, women and reproductive health be damned; we have to reach our arbitrary goal for reducing federal spending in 2011.
Now, in their budget cutting zeal, some House Republicans, led by Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH, 5th), are reportedly gearing up to wipe out the $648 million a year currently being spent for international family planning assistance. Never mind that doing so would deny family planning services to 26.5 million women in the developing world, and would result in 7.8 million more unintended pregnancies, 3.7 million more abortions, 87,000 additional newborn deaths, and 12,000 additional maternal deaths. Because those numbers don't appear as a line item in the federal budget, it appears that they don't matter to budget-cutting zealots.
The problem with fevers -- budget-cutting fevers included -- is that they can cause delusions and impair critical thinking skills. Such is certainly the case here.
In a world beset by a growing tide of hunger, severe poverty, and social unrest, does it really make sense to cut international family planning assistance? For pro-life members of Congress who are opposed to abortion, does it really make sense to deny women in the developing world the access to contraceptives that they need to prevent unwanted pregnancies? Does it really make sense to sacrifice the reproductive health of women on the altar of fiscal responsibility?
Of course not. In a rational world policymakers would be boosting their support for international family planning assistance.
In times past, the United States has been the world's leader on expanding family planning and reproductive health services to women in the developing world. The need is still there. Particularly in the least developed countries where maternal and infant mortality are unacceptably high, and where hunger and severe poverty still stunt growth and kill dreams.
As part of the U.N.'s poverty-fighting Millennium Development Goals, world leaders have set 2015 as the target year for achieving universal access to family planning and reproductive health programs. That target is still achievable if the U.S. and other donor nations increase their contributions. That's why family planning advocates are launching a new petition drive this week.
Family planning is one of the great success stories of the past 40 years. And the need continues. This is no time to be turning back the clock. It's time to fight back.