A Pro-Life Shot in the Foot

PRO-LIFE members of the US House of Representatives recently caused funding for international voluntary family planning to be cut by 85 percent for this fiscal year, ostensibly to reduce abortions worldwide. The Senate had to pass this drastic cut without benefit of debate or amendment to avert another government shutdown.

The cuts reflect a rejection of common sense about preventing unwanted pregnancies and abortions; a denial of decades of scientific, social, demographic, and statistical analysis; and a measure of contempt for the poor.

The US Agency for International Development (AID) has played an integral role in promoting international voluntary family-planning efforts. American funding has helped to enable people to decide the number and spacing of their children, to improve reproductive health, and to reduce population-growth rates to more sustainable levels. More important, the US program has proven highly effective in reducing the abortion rate in countries that previously had high rates.

For example, in Hungary, where voluntary family-planning services were introduced eight years ago, the abortion rate has dropped by 60 percent and continues to fall. Although programs in Russia and in the new independent states, where women on average have between four and eight abortions, are too new to be reliably assessed, we expect similar success. Unfortunately, drastic funding cuts jeopardize these accomplishments.

The 85 percent cut will result in, at a minimum, 4 million more unintended pregnancies every year, tens of thousands of deaths among women and young children annually, and 1.6 million more abortions, according to a recent analysis by a coalition of experts, including the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

A concern has been raised that funding is being used to promote abortion. However, AID is explicitly prohibited by law from performing or counseling for abortions. This has been true since 1973, and AID has been scrupulously faithful to this constraint. There is no evidence to the contrary.

Some people believe that no money, public or private, should be spent on any aspect of abortion. They complain that some agencies that partner with AID, notably hospitals, allow for abortion counseling or services, albeit with private money. They accuse AID of complicity, though no AID funds are used for such activities. This "fungibility" discussion has been going on for some time.

The difference now is that the House has embraced the probability of increased abortions and maternal and child deaths worldwide while compromise is sought. This is clearly not pro-life.

Rep. Christopher Smith (R) was recently quoted as stating that family-planning money could be better spent on child-survival programs. But UNICEF's "State of the World's Children" report asserts that "family planning could bring more benefits to more people at less cost than any other single technology now available ...." World Health Organization statistics also support this view.

In order to avert a disastrous outcome, I have included a provision in the upcoming Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1996 to allow the president to make full funding for voluntary population-planning activities available if he determines and reports to Congress that the funding restrictions would significantly increase the number of abortions. This provision was retained by the Senate in a recent vote, but will be open for discussion next week in the House-Senate conference.

I welcome the support of those who believe as I do that abortion is wrong. We can't allow our international voluntary family-planning program to become a victim to the politics of abortion. Too many lives are at stake.

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