By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
With President Bush out of the way, supporters of USAID's family planning program overseas are urging President Obama to triple the annual budget to $1.5 billion and end the Republican-backed "gag rule" that barred U.S. assistance to groups engaged in abortion-related services. In a report due out next week, five former directors of USAID's Population and Reproductive Health Program say that it's time for the United States to get back into the international family planning business. "At the beginning of a new administration and a new Congress, it is time to reverse the decline in U.S. political and financial commitment to this field of signature U.S. leadership and accomplishment, to satisfy the unmet need for services, and to improve women's reproductive health worldwide," says the report, signed by J. Joseph Speidel, Steven Sinding, Duff Gillespie, Elizabeth Maguire, and Margaret Neuse. It's titled "Making the Case for U.S. International Family Planning Assistance" and is scheduled to be released Tuesday.
Initially, the five former directors want a surge from $457 million annually to $1.2 billion in funding, according to the report provided to Whispers. That would increase to $1.5 billion by 2014. Family planning and contraceptives get much attention in the report. "Although we also fully support strengthening other priority reproductive health programs, such as those addressing HIV/AIDS and maternal health, we focus here on family planning because of its central importance to women's health and to overall development, as well as because of its low priority and funding in recent years," says the report. "Access to affordable, effective contraceptives is critical in enabling women to make their own reproductive decisions," it adds.
On the Bush-era gag rule, the report says: "To reassert U.S. leadership in family planning, pledges of renewed commitment from the White House will be a galvanizing force. But the words must be backed by action. It will be essential to reverse the global gag rule restriction as soon as possible."
The request is a strong signal that international family planning experts expect Obama to continue reversing Bush-era antiabortion initiatives and fund international efforts. It also comes as donors are drying up for the program.
Look for Democrats to back the report and Republicans to rail against it.