US support for sexual and reproductive rights



Exporting ignorance

The policies of the Bush Administration that established $170 – $190 million per year for federal funded faith based programs in the USA and abroad were ineffective. During his reign of error and his reign of terror the  agencies and organizations that could received funding for undertaking sex education programming in Africa where AIDS is rampant were those that taught abstinence only. This amounted to exporting ignorance as studies show  teens registered in and attending abstinence only programs in the USA were having unprotected sex and had alarming STD rates.

US Policy

The United States has supported family planning, reproductive health, and population programs as part of its foreign assistance program since 1965 and remains a leader among donor nations in both technical and financial terms. Beginning in the 1980s, however, domestic debates over abortion spilled over into the international arena, helping to erode longstanding bipartisan support for U.S. international population assistance. Since then, efforts from some corners have had some success in reducing U.S. financial support for family planning overseas and to attach onerous funding and policy restrictions.

Bilateral funding for family planning and reproductive health is channeled through the United States Agency for International Development. Historically, the United States has been a significant contributor to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) – an instrumental multilateral organization with programs in over 140 countries—and was in fact one of the founders of the institution. However, in recent years, President Bush withheld the U.S. contribution to UNFPA due to unfounded allegations about UNFPA’s program in China.

Check your religion at the door

Reproductive illnesses and unintended pregnancies weaken or kill people in their most economically productive years, not only exacting a financial toll on individuals and families but also undermining the economic development of nations. Sexual and reproductive health conditions account for nearly one-fifth of the global burden of disease and 32 percent of the burden among women of reproductive age worldwide.

In sub-Saharan Africa, poor reproductive health accounts for nearly two-thirds of disability-adjusted life years lost among women of reproductive age. In many developing countries, women earn 40 percent to 60 percent of household incomes—a significant economic contribution that is lost when a woman dies in pregnancy or is unable to work due to poor reproductive health.

Global attention on HIV/AIDS has increased exponentially in the last decade, and the United States. is a major player in the attempts to address this devastating epidemic. With the creation of President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), selected countries are the recipients of an influx of U.S. assistance. But that desperately-needed funding is hampered by misguided restrictions and selection criteria that warrants examination.

Some U.S. policies have had unfortunate consequences, restricting access to services and contraceptives or curtailing human rights. Through the Policy Impact Project, Population Action International (PAI) examines U.S. funding for sexual and reproductive health and the policies that govern it—including the global gag rule and abstinence-only requirements—to document their effect on the ground.

A change in direction

In the wake of the historic November 4th, 2009 election, hundreds of U.S. advocacy groups and coalitions are undertaking initiatives in order to inform President-Elect Obama and his advisors of the legislative and policy changes needed in the programs they champion.

On April 1st, 2009 the U.S. government decisively broke from its recent past [under the Bush Administration] by reaffirming its “deep commitment” to “universal access to sexual and reproductive health and the protection and promotion of reproductive rights” at the 42nd Session of the Commission on Population and Development, at UN headquarters in New York. Women’s health and human rights advocates joined with world leaders in praising the U.S. statement.

Advocates were particularly pleased by the U.S. renewed commitment to life-saving, comprehensive approaches, including voluntary family planning “that provides full information and respects the client’s choices;” complete services during pregnancy and skilled care for birth; and linking HIV/AIDS activities with sexual and reproductive health, “given that 60-percent of people on PEPFAR-supported antiretroviral treatment are women, many of whom are in their reproductive years.”

“The U.S. also called for a broad international effort to provide comprehensive, accurate information and education on sexuality [and] sexual and reproductive health for women, men, girls, and boys as they age and their needs evolve.”

This is particularly striking as it breaks from the previous administration’s restrictions on full information, such as its preference for abstinence-only programming in PEPFAR and its imposition of the Mexico City Policy, which limited information flow between health providers and their clients.

“We congratulate the Obama administration for its sophisticated, global perspective on these issues. With half a million women dying each year due to pregnancy and childbirth, and HIV growing rapidly among women and girls, we cannot afford to delay action. We now look to Congress and the members of the administration to make the U.S. commitment to effective, comprehensive, and rights-based approaches to sexual and reproductive health a reality for women and girls around the world.”

The full U.S. statement is available.

More information on the importance of comprehensive approaches to sexual and reproductive health and rights and U.S. policy.

Discussion question:
Do you have any thoughts to share on the new position taken by the US policy?