House Votes to Eliminate Funding for UNFPA

There is a lot to dislike about a funding bill that just passed the House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops Subcommittee.  It guts funding for USAID by more than one third; re-enacts the Global Gag Rule; puts the United States back into arrears at the United Nations; under-funds UN peacekeeping; cuts US funding for the Human Rights Council…the list goes on.

But possibly the worst, most indecent and ultimately shortsighted cut is to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA.) The bill would entiterly eliminate American contributions to UNFPA, which currently amount to about $30 million. $40 million.

Why is this so bad?

UNFPA is the primary mechanism through which the international community delivers maternal and infant health care, pre-natal and ante-natal care, fights maternal mortality, and supports contraceptive and voluntary family planning.

It is that later part–support for family planning–that makes UNFPA such a rich target for a certain cadre of policy makers. Contrary to all available evidence some lawmakers want to believe that UNFPA somehow provides or promotes abortion.  This is categorically false.

The need for family planning is enormous, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where  fertility rates routinely hover around 6 children per woman. Women simply do not have the means to control the timing or spacing of their babies.  In all, the World Health Organization estimates that there are 215 million women around the world do not have access to modern contraception or family planning methods.  As the largest generation of adolescents in the history of the world enter their reproductive years, that number is expected to increase by 40% over the next 15 years.

The Guttmacher Institute estimates that total global investments in family planning about to about $3.1 billion spread across every donor and recipient country.  To meet the unmet need for family planning, an additional $3.6 billion is required. The bill that just passed the house gets us farther away from that figure.  What’s maddening about this is that ultimately, investments in family planning net savings.

From the Guttmacher Institute:

Fulfilling the unmet need for modern family planning methods would increase costs by $3.6 billion, but it would lower the cost of providing maternal and newborn health services by $5.1 billion, because roughly 50 million fewer women would become pregnant unintentionally. Thus, it would result in net total savings of $1.5 billion.

In short, a simultaneous investment in modern family planning and maternal and newborn health services would save more lives, and would cost less, than investing in maternal and newborn health services alone.

Cutting funding for UNFPA will end up costing more in the long run. In the short term, cutting funding to UNFPA will result in more women dying child birth; more unplanned pregnancies; and prevent a key mechanism for female empowerment worldwide.

Great job, guys!