By Jodi Jacobson
This post was originally published on RH Reality Check.
The Republican/Tea Party majorities in the House of Representatives are, literally, salivating at the prospect of cutting aid to the world’s poorest women.
On Wednesday [May 25], Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (R-MI), put out a press release with this gleeful introductory paragraph:
"I’m happy to announce that the winning program of the first round of YouCut is the UN Populations Fund (UNFPA) which will save $400 million in taxpayer dollars over ten years. This program, which is receiving funding from the Obama Administration but was not funded under the Reagan or George W. Bush Administrations, raises many concerns over potential funding for abortions and forced sterilizations in countries such as China."
A bill has been introduced to defund UNFPA, which will first go to committee and then to a full vote on the House floor, where only a simple majority will be needed to pass the bill.
For the purpose of clarity, I’ll first add the facts, ’cause you won’t get them from Rep. Ellmers: As certified by the United States Department of State, and also by a special investigative team appointed by President George W. Bush himself, UNFPA has nothing whatsoever to do with forced sterilization in China and does not provide abortions. Facts, however, are not germane to either the GOP or the Tea Party.
Instead, defunding UNFPA — like Planned Parenthood particularly and women’s health services more broadly — has long been a primary objective of the far right in the United States and a special project of Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, whose hatred for women knows no limits. So this is just the latest in an endless war against women.
What is notable, however, is the gloating nature of the discussion around these cuts, and the new smokescreen created by the recruitment of female mysogynists to the effort:
"This is just the first of many steps we are taking to stop wasteful spending and turn our economy around. I look forward to working to push defunding of this program through the House and hopefully getting the bill to the floor for a vote. I would encourage everyone to visit my website to learn more about the winning program and keep voting as the competition continues over the next several months."
YouCut is an initiative by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to give his minions the appearance of having a role in making decisions. It is described by Cantor as: "a unique grassroots program…that allows the public to directly engage in the legislative process by voting online for a spending cut of their choice. The winning cut is then formally introduced by the member who put forward the three cuts that week."
In reality, people can vote "up or down" on pre-selected initiatives ostensibly aimed at cutting the deficit and balancing the federal budget. Not surprisingly, those pre-selected initiatives are warmed over roadkill from past GOP efforts. UNFPA was one of the first to be put to the test for voting and, shockingly, it rose to the top in the "Week One/Phase II" voting on the website, American-Idol style, among the small number of people in the United States who actually agree with these cuts. According to research conducted by the Rand corporation, 80 percent of the American public writ large supports funding U.S. government funding of voluntary family planning programs overseas. Moreover, in a recent poll, 85 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement: "Every woman on the planet deserves access to quality maternal and reproductive health care." So Cantor’s efforts clearly draw a distinct minority of people who are either largely uninformed or affiliated with the extremist right, or both.
Defunding UNFPA will do nothing to address the deficit, instead, it will cost us more money in the long-run, something that can be said about each of these supposed initiatives clothed in deficit reduction and really meant to impose a radical agenda on the United States.
For example, President Obama’s budget request for FY 2012 includes $47 million for UNFPA. In FY 2010, UNFPA received $55 million in U.S. funding; in the FY 2011 budget "negotiations," the U.S. contribution to UNFPA was cut by $15 million, to $40 million dollars, after the GOP- and Tea Party-controlled House tried to eliminate funding altogether when it passed H.R. 1.
What does UNFPA do with funding from the United States and other countries? It’s mission is to promote the internationally recognized "right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity." UNFPA does not provide abortions, abortion services, or abortion-related equipment to governments in other countries, but it does help governments strengthen their national health systems to address complications of unsafe abortion, thereby saving women’s lives.
What else does UNFPA do? It supports countries in best using population data to develop policies and programs to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect. UNFPA helps reduce maternal mortality, infant mortality, and child mortality; helps stem the spread of disease, and helps promote policies that enable people, especially the poorest, to live in dignity.
This is an agenda clearly worthy of the deep hatred of the both the GOP and Tea Party, which can not stand the idea that women have rights at all, much less exercise the right to determine whether, when, and to whom to marry, or whether, when, and with whom to have children, or how many children to have. We now know from laws passed in the United States that women dying from unsafe abortion are of no concern to the GOP or Tea Party extremists governing the House.
Even child health is under attack. UNFPA works, for example, to reduce child marriage and eliminate female genital mutilation. But extremists now controlling the House killed legislation aimed at reducing child marriage using existing resources, so their real intentions are clear.
In fact, for every $100 million dollars invested globally in the kinds of programs supported by UNFPA, we help women avert 2.1 million unintended pregnancies, prevent 825,000 abortions, prevent 70,000 infant deaths, and save 4,000 women from dying in pregnancy and childbirth. This is not only cost-effective funding, it is pro-life and morally imperative funding.
What Representative Ellmers calls "wasteful spending," saves the lives of mothers and infants, keeps families healthy, saves girls from becoming child brides and… reduces the need for abortion by expanding access to voluntary family planning services to the very poorest.
So what Ellmers — and the male-dominated leadership for which she is shlling — really mean is that they are "happy to announce" that they will cause more death, pain, and suffering among poor women worldwide. That does seem to be their goal, does it not?