More than two months after the beginning of the new 2008 fiscal year, the White House and Congress have finally reached agreement on a massive FY 2008 omnibus spending bill. Here is a summary of the international family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) issues within the foreign assistance provisions of the bill:
Funding—The omnibus spending bill includes $461 million for U.S. international FP/RH programs. This is the higher level that was contained in the Senate bill and represents an increase of $21 million above current levels and a more than 25 percent increase above the amount requested by the President.
Global Gag Rule—Disappointingly, the measure approved by both the House and Senate to provide an exemption from the Global Gag Rule—enabling foreign family planning organizations otherwise ineligible for U.S. FP/RH assistance to continue to receive U.S.-donated contraceptives—was dropped by congressional negotiators in the face of an unwavering veto threat from the President. Regrettably, the Senate-passed amendment to fully overturn the Gag Rule also suffered the same fate.
PAI President and CEO Amy Coen had this to say upon hearing the news:
“We commend members of Congress—on both sides of the abortion debate—for finding common ground to improve the lives of women and their children, thus reducing unintended pregnancies, abortion, and HIV infection through greater access to contraceptives. It is tragic that President Bush was unable to follow their lead. His persistent threat to veto the foreign assistance bill doomed this life-saving measure. It is unconscionable for a president to ignore the majority of the members of Congress, the majority of Americans and the best interests of millions of human beings because he is blinded by his own narrow beliefs. Today the shadow of one man darkens the lives of so many.”
UNFPA—The omnibus spending bill provides a U.S. contribution to the UN Population Fund of $40 million. The overall contribution level reflects a $6 million increase about the $34 million approved by Congress in FY 2007. The UNFPA contribution still remains subject to the existing “Kemp-Kasten” restriction, which has been interpreted by the Bush administration to deny more than $150 million in funding to UNFPA for the last six years. However, the spending bill includes House-passed language requiring a Kemp-Kasten determination with six months of enactment of the bill and stipulating that the decision must be accompanied by a comprehensive analysis and the evidence used in making the determination. In addition, the bill includes a requirement that any amount withheld from UNFPA under Kemp-Kasten be reprogrammed to USAID for bilateral “family planning, maternal, and reproductive health activities.”
Abstinence Earmark—Lastly, and on a very positive note, the omnibus spending bill also contains a provision approved by both the House and Senate nullifying the “abstinence-until-marriage” earmark of bilateral HIV/AIDS prevention funding. By waiving this destructive restriction mandating at least one-third of all HIV/AIDS prevention funding be limited to abstinence-until-marriage programs, this measure will provide much-needed flexibility to the federal Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC) in programming prevention funding in developing countries.