Population Matters

It’s Time to Talk

September 29th, 2011

In a media environment filled with startling new developments ranging from the truly bizarre to the truly catastrophic, the fact that population is growing is hardly news.  It’s hard to compete for airtime with the arrest of a terrorist wannabe, the release of the new Kindle Fire, or another possible government shutdown.

Nevertheless, population matters, and today we are releasing a report, “From 6 Billion to 7 Billion:  How Population Growth is Changing and Challenging our World,” on a subject that—we believe–deserves serious media attention.  And the reason is simple:  the world is changing in ways that raise serious doubts about our ability to sustain projected population growth while also improving the human condition.  The gains that we have made in reducing severe poverty, eliminating hunger, and improving health outcomes in the developing world may not be sustainable, unless more is done to empower women, educate girls, and expand the availability of contraceptives.

Twelve years ago, when world population reached the 6 billion milestone, the human prospect looked immeasurably brighter than it does today. The prices of energy and food were at or near historic lows.  As a consequence, hunger and severe poverty were on the run, and many thought that we could virtually eliminate them in twenty or thirty years.  The world was already warming, but hopes were high that the nations of the world would soon act to reduce the level of greenhouse gas emissions and avert the worst effects of climate change.  The global economy was booming, and it appeared that the U.S. and other donor nations would provide the foreign assistance that would be needed to accelerate human and economic development.  And, while there was growing concern about humanity’s impact on the global environment, many believed that world population would start to decline by mid-century and that, long before then, advances in the use of renewable energy and green technologies would reduce humanity’s ecological footprint.

But over the past 12 years, the trends have not gone according to script.  Over the past decade, food and energy prices have soared to record highs; hunger and severe poverty have made a comeback; the fight against climate change has been nearly abandoned; the global economy has been battered; economic development assistance has fallen short of expectations; water scarcity and resource limitations have become more acute; and the transition to a green economy has not been as swift as many hoped. And, in the meantime, world population keeps on growing with no end in sight.

There always have been compelling reasons for making family planning services and reproductive health services more widely available to women in the developing world.  Access to contraceptives lowers maternal and infant mortality. It increases the chances that girls will stay in school longer and that parents will send their children to school.  It allows women to enter the workforce, and for families to save and, hopefully, prosper. It improves reproductive health, and lowers the chances that family members will acquire HIV/AIDS.  Similarly, there always have been strong reasons for investing more in girls, keeping them in school longer, and delaying age of marriage.  Female empowerment and gender equality have been, and remain, moral and social imperatives.

But despite the manifest benefits and the moral imperatives the world has moved too slowly to fulfill the pledges made at the International Conference on Population and Development that was held in Cairo in 1994.  And while MDG5(b) sets 2015 as the target year for achieving universal access to family planning and other reproductive health services, that target is far from being met.

The events of the past decade should have lent more urgency to family planning and investment in girls and reproductive health, but so far they have not.  It’s our hope that our report and the observance of the 7 billion population mark will help to create that sense of urgency.  That’s why we are joining with other organizations in declaring that “It’s time to talk.”

The world largest generation ever of young people is now entering its prime reproductive years.  We owe it to them, and their posterity, to provide them with the reproductive health and rights that they desire.  But it won’t happen without a greater sense of urgency and commitment from the U.S. and other donor nations.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

Key Budget Battle Looms for International Family Planning

September 26th, 2011

Happy World Contraception Day! In the on-going war on women a key budget battle is looming over contraception. The opening salvo of this fight came in late July when the House State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee approved a 25% cut in international family planning assistance for FY2012.

Along with the cut in funding, the Subcommittee also voted for two policy-related restrictions: a ban on any support for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and reinstatement of the global “gag rule” that President Obama repealed by executive order during his first month in office. The gag rule prevents foreign organizations receiving U.S. family planning assistance from using their own non-U.S. funds to perform abortions.  In countries where abortion is legal, it also bars them from referring patients to an abortion service provider. In countries where abortion is illegal, it bars family planning providers from advocating for its legalization.

This week the Senate Appropriations Committee fired back with their response and approved a State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012 that would provide $700 million for international family planning assistance, including $40 million for the United Nations Population Fund.  The Senate action would boost funding by $85 million over this year’s appropriation level ($615 million).  The Committee rejected the House’s position on the gag rule, and voted to make President Obama’s repeal of the gag rule permanent.

The Senate Committee’s action sets up a budget battle with the House that will have to be resolved through upcoming House-Senate negotiations. The new fiscal year begins on October 1, but neither the House nor the Senate is expected to complete action on the State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill by that date.  Congress in the next few days is expected to pass a “continuing resolution” that will provide temporary funding for federal programs until agreement can be reached on a final “omnibus” appropriation bill for next year.

The result of this battle will have profound impacts on the lives of women around the world. The Guttmacher Institute has calculated that cutting U.S. family planning assistance by 25% would result in:

·         9.4 million fewer women and couples receiving contraceptive services

·         Almost 3 million more unintended pregnancies

·         1.3 million more abortions (mostly unsafe)

·         1.3 million more unplanned births

·         7,700 more maternal deaths

There is still time to tell Congress that family planning and reproductive health care services are vital to the health and well-being of women and their families in the developing world. Make your voices heard…before it’s too late.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

Family Planning: ‘The Best of Times, the Worst of Times’

September 23rd, 2011

To borrow a line from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, support for family planning and reproductive health is facing, “the best of times, the worst of times.” If you were in New York City during the past several days, one could easily conclude that prospects for family planning and reproductive health are on the rise, but if you were in the nation’s capital or, worse, Dallas, Texas, one might easily think the opposite.

First, the good news… and it’s quite good. As part of its Every Woman, Every Child campaign, the United Nations this week announced that governments and NGOs, alike, are stepping up their support for maternal and child health programs, including family planning services. One of the goals of the campaign, in addition to slashing maternal and infant death rates, is to prevent 33,000 unwanted pregnancies. Last year, when the initiative was launched, $40 billion had been pledged; this week, the U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, announced that an additional $10 billion has been committed, including significant pledges from the developing countries themselves.

Earlier this week in New York, the Global Leaders Council of Reproductive Health, an Aspen Institute initiative led by former Irish president Mary Robinson, called upon donor nations to double their commitments to family planning and reproductive health programs in the developing world to $6.7 billion a year.

The bad news, and it’s really bad, is that the world’s largest donor nation, the United States, is retreating on its commitments to international family planning, and other donor nations may follow suit. Earlier this year, as part of a deal on this year’s budget, Congress cut its support for family planning assistance by 5 percent. Last month, a House Appropriations Subcommittee voted to slash it another 25 percent for fiscal year 2012.

The hope is, in the upcoming budget negotiations, that the Senate will successfully oppose any steep cuts in international family planning for 2012, but even if the Senate holds the line this year, family planning could easily fall victim to the budgetary axe in future years. All the signs point in that direction.

As a result of the recent debt ceiling agreement, discretionary spending caps are being imposed, and those caps could be lowered even further in any upcoming budget deal. Even under President Obama’s revised budget plan, non-security discretionary spending will fall from 3.4 percent of GDP today to 1.8 percent of GDP by 2021. Republican leaders, on the other hand, would like to shrink discretionary spending even further.

In such a tight budget environment, particularly one controlled by social conservatives, it’s not hard to see how international family planning assistance would fare. All you have to do is look at how family planning assistance is faring under Gov. Rick Perry’s administration. With the support of the state legislature, Gov. Perry this year slashed funding for family planning clinics by two-thirds. As a result, many family planning clinics in Texas will be forced to close their doors.

Rick Perry may or may not be the Republican nominee in 2012, but his opposition to family planning is generally shared by his primary opponents. If there is a Republican Congress and administration in 2013, international family planning assistance could suffer a fate not far removed from what’s happening now to family planning in Texas.

If so, it would be a disaster for women in developing countries, their families, their communities, and the world at large. With world population poised to cross the 7 billion mark in less than two months, and projected to reach 9 billion by 2042, this is no time to be denying women access to contraceptive services.

As terrible as it is to deny access to family planning services to low-income women in this country, it’s even worse to deny access to such services to women in developing countries. It’s no coincidence that contraceptive usage is lowest in the least developed countries. Without greater gender equity, female empowerment, and access to contraceptive and reproductive health services, families in places like Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen are condemned to “the worst of times.” And if women in other developing countries are denied access to family planning and reproductive health services, they and their families could face a similar fate.

Let’s hope not.