Take that, Pregnant Lady! Indecency on Display in Congress

In a markup hearing at the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, the committee voted to eliminate American funding for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). The vote proceeded along a straight party line vote and Republicans justified their vote by falsely insisting that UNFPA supports abortion and China’s one child policy.

In effect, this piece of legislation amounts to a $50 million cut to UNFPA’s budget. That, in turn means that UNFPA may not be able to “prevent 7,000 maternal and newborn deaths, provide surgeries to 10,000 women afflicted by an obstetric fistula, and offer contraception to about 1 million couples who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

That’s the overall picture. But if you dig deeper into the specific votes that the Committee took on specific amendments, you can get a better understanding of the kind of indecency on display.

The set up is this: Congressional Democrats basically knew that UNFPA funding was a big target for their Republican counterparts, so Democrats offered a series of Amendments to the legislation to see if the Republicans would budge at all.  If the funding were earmarked for very narrowly defined circumstances, maybe they could get some Republicans on board?  In all there were 10 amendments put forth by Democrats. All 10 were defeated along straight party line votes.

So what, exactly, did the Republicans defeat?

1.  Let American contributions help UNFPA continue its work in Haiti

2. Same for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

4. Re-establishing maternal health care services where facilities have been destroyed due to natural disasters. Here, we are talking again about distributing birthing kits in Haiti so women don’t have to give birth in unsanitary conditions; or helping pregnant women displaced by famine in the Horn of Africa by setting up rudimentary birthing centers in refugee camps. That sort of thing.

5. Promoting efforts to end child marriage. Fact: Pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of mortality in 15–19-year-old girls, in the developing world and those aged under 15 years are five times more likely to die than those aged over 20.

6. An exemption to the bill that would allow the United States government to help fund the distribution of contraceptives aimed at preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS.

7.  Efforts to end female genital mutilation. This is actually a partnership between UNICEF and UNFPA (the victims are most often young girls).  Three years into the joint program, more than 6,000 communities in Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Senegal, Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Guinea and Somalia have already abandoned the practice.

8. Provide emergency maternal health care for women displaced by conflict. This includes efforts to combat gender based violence in conflict zones.

9. A straightforward exemption that would let US contributions to UNFPA “carry out activities to provide and distribute equipment, medicine, supplies, and expertise, including safe delivery, kits and hygiene kits, to ensure safe childbirth and emergency obstetric care.”

10.  Another amendment “to carry out activities to make available access to family planning services to allow women and men to control the number and spacing of their children, prevent unintended pregnancies, and reduce abortions and sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.”

So, there you have it.  If budgets are a reflection of one’s values, I’d argue that we are in a serious need of some self-examination.