The current effort by U.S. House Republicans to remove funding for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers has been well documented. But the so-called “Pence Amendment,” so named for abortion rights opponent Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who proposed it, could have effects that extend far beyond the borders of the U.S.
In addition to targeting Planned Parenthood specifically, the Continuing Resolution contains language that would limit foreign aid set aside for reproductive health to $440 million, a cut of almost a third from where it currently stands. It goes on:
“None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this division for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs for population planning activities or other population assistance may be made available to any foreign nongovernmental organization that promotes or performs abortion, except in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term.”
If the Continuing Resolution is finally approved with this language intact, it would be a de facto reinstatement of the government’s “Mexico City Policy,” more commonly termed the “global gag rule,” a now-defunct policy denying foreign aid money to any organizations involved in abortion. President Reagan instituted the global gag rule in 1984, Bill Clinton rescinded it upon taking office in 1993, George W. Bush put it back in place in 2001 and President Obama overturned it for a second time when he took office in 2009.
The government bringing back the global gag rule could have devastating consequences for organizations in vulnerable countries offering family planning and contraceptive services. Population Action International (PAI), a nonprofit NGO dedicated to reproductive health, reports that under the Bush’s gag rule in 2002, Marie Stopes International Ethiopia and the Family Guidance Association of Ethiopia (FGAE) lost 10 and 35 percent of their budgets, respectively. PAI reports that FGAE also lost out on participation in a U.S.-based HIV/AIDS program because of the misapprehension that the gag rule also applies to HIV/AIDS funding. And this occurred in Ethiopia, which has one of the lower HIV/AIDS infection rates in Africa: an estimated 2.1 percent of the adult population, as compared to Swaziland, which has the highest rate in the world, at 26.1 percent of the adult population. The top 23 countries in the world in terms of HIV infection rates are all in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The February amendment was Pence’s second effort in as many months to remove funding for domestic and international family planning organizations, though his original resolution on family planning funding was perhaps somewhat toothless given its format. While it sought the exact same goals as the current amendment and had a great deal of support, as a stand-alone bill, it was vulnerable to being voted down in the Senate. Even if it could have made it through, President Obama almost certainly would have vetoed such a bill. But the fact that it’s an amendment to the House’s Continuing Resolution makes it much more likely to go into effect.
If Democrats hope to avoid a government shutdown and actually keep the government funded through the year, they’ll have to make some compromises. If the Pence amendment’s supporters refuse to budge, this may very well become a battle that Democrats can’t afford to fight. This, in spite of public opinion polls showing that most Americans oppose cutting funding to Planned Parenthood.