Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Family Planning-A Basic Human Right for Women Everywhere

The Feminist Majority Foundation Intern Hill Briefing on July 24th effectively stressed the importance of saving and improving women’s lives through global family planning.
Craig Lasher, Senior Policy Analyst at Population Action International, began the briefing by reporting a 40% decline in global family planning funding since George W. Bush took office. The year 2008 also marked the seventh straight year Bush has refused to allocate money to the United Nations Population Fund. These actions are part of the so-called “global gag rule” which the president re-instated on his first day in office in January 2001. This heatedly debated and contentious act does not fund foreign NGOs who use any type of funding (US or non-US), to provide safe abortions, abortion counseling, refer women to abortion clinics, or lobby to make abortion legal in their countries. It drastically limits the scope of services provided by international NGOs to women in need, stipulating what they can and cannot do and forcing them to either go without US funding or abide by a strict US controlled agenda. Organizations that do not sign the global gag rule also lose access to heavily relied upon US-donated contraceptive supplies. Crystal Lander, Senior Advocacy Advisor at the Centre for Development and Population Activities, followed up on the global gag rule, commenting that it would be deemed a violation of free speech if applied here in the United States to national NGOs. Lander also made the important clarification that family planning encompasses not only birth control, but HIV/AIDS testing, pap smears, pre and post-natal care, and infant care-all of which are crucial for women’s health.
Ellie Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, and Publisher of Ms. Magazine, highlighted the correlation of national and international trends in US family planning policies. Organizations in the US, such as Planned Parenthood, have had to cut back on staff and services provided, and the price of birth control pills has been steadily rising. Smeal appealed to the young age and energy of the audience members by entreating them to realize the equality of all women, everywhere in the world. “There is no difference in the rights of a woman in a developing country and a woman in the United States,” she said. Access to family planning services is a basic health right and should not be denied to anyone. She stressed urgency of action in achieving necessary funding for global family planning, as hundreds of thousands of women every year are dying from maternally related causes, and tens of thousands from unsafe illegal abortions. Smeal also expressed concern over her opinion that the greatest tragedy in this situation, following these un-necessary deaths, is the fact that the US has the resources, knowledge, and sway in the global community to affect positive change on women’s lives both here and abroad, but is not using them. The struggle for equalized family planning must continue until no woman lacks access to a safe birth, contraceptives, infant care, and disease prevention mechanisms.

Date: July 24, 2008
Sponsor: The Feminist Majority Foundation and the Dirksen Senate Office Building
Representative Attending: Emma Gring

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