A Look At U.S. Policy On Family Planning Abroad

During the Bush administration, conservatives opposed even the use of the term "reproductive health services." U.S. support for family planning abroad declined significantly. Now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that under the Obama administration, millions of women worldwide will have greater access to family planning, contraception and HIV counseling and treatment.

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne. International family planning is back. The Bush administration avoided it. Conservatives opposed the use of the term reproductive health services. Organizations that received U.S. funds could not even associate with groups that provided abortion-related services. NPRs Brenda Wilson reports that now the Obama administration is making family planning a key focus of foreign assistance programs.

BRENDA WILSON: Theres an old saying that children are a poor mans wealth. But Kakenya Entaya(ph) from northern Kenya began to have her doubts very early in life.

Ms. KAKENYA ENTAYA: My grandfather had four wives. In the land he had, he divided to four houses. I don't know how many uncles we have, but by the time it gets to my father and then my brothers, the land is very minimal. And the women are seeing this. You know, the more they keep having children without planning, the resources are not there to support the children anymore.

WILSON: But Entaya, now a graduate student here in the U.S., says the women in her village will need more resources and information if they want to control how many children they have. Now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the needs of women like those in Entayas village will be a focal point of U.S. foreign assistance.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): Theres a direct connection between a womans ability to plan her family, space her pregnancies and give birth safely and her ability to get an education, work outside the home, support her family and participate fully in the life of her community.

WILSON: The administration has already restored funding for the United Nations Population and Development Fund, which for eight years received no U.S. support. And in his first week, President Obama lifted an executive order that existed in the Reagan and Bush administrations that prohibited U.S.-funded programs from providing information about abortion services.

Secretary Clinton has called for an increase in reproduction health education services and contraceptives for young people, links between HIV services and family planning, more prenatal care and a reduction in unsafe abortions.

Womens groups and family planning organizations welcome the change. Susan Cohen is the legislative director of the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that advocates for womens reproductive health rights.

Ms. SUSAN COHEN (Legislative director, Guttmacher Institute): We are beginning to catch up to where we should be in terms of funding. And the fact that the United States government is prioritizing this set of services sends the message to the recipient countries that this is no longer something that can only be talked about in whispers or in the hallways instead of in the main meeting rooms.

WILSON: Conservatives have had no problems so far with the changes. But they are concerned that they will end up promoting abortions. Allen Moore is a fellow at the Smithson Center and a former Republican policy advisor.

Mr. ALLEN MOORE (Fellow, Smithson Center): These days, the Democrats think its our turn now. Weve got these large majorities and a Democrat in the White House. Lets do some fixes here once and for all that will advance abortion rights overseas.

WILSON: Conservative fears could be placated, he says, by spelling out the meaning of reproductive health services and family planning, so that it is clear abortion is not included.

Mr. MOORE: Youve got to make both sides comfortable that the other side isnt going to somehow take advantage of a desire to move forward and stick something in that will widen the door on abortions or shut the door down on abortion counseling. There is not a lot of trust here.

WILSON: But Guttmacher's Susan Cohen says no clarification is needed because theres a law on the books that makes it illegal to use U.S. funds to pay for abortions.

Ms. COHEN: I really don't think that there needs to be any further clarification. The provision in law known as the Helms Amendment that was enacted in 1973 has been undisturbed for better - or in our case - for worse, which makes it very explicit that abortions may not be provided with U.S. government funds.

WILSON: In its reorganization of womens health services, the administration has requested $65 million more for family planning. Its the same budget line, but now its part of what the administration calls its global health initiative that makes women and children a top priority.

Brenda Wilson, NPR News.

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