A Look At U.S. Policy On Family Planning Abroad
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm 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. NPR's Brenda Wilson reports that now the Obama administration is making family planning a key focus of foreign assistance programs.
BRENDA WILSON: There's an old saying that children are a poor man's wealth. But Kakenya Entaya(ph) from northern Kenya began to have her doubts very early in life.
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 Entaya's village will be a focal point of U.S. foreign assistance.
HILLARY CLINTON: There's a direct connection between a woman's 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: Women's groups and family planning organizations welcome the change. Susan Cohen is the legislative director of the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that advocates for women's reproductive health rights.
SUSAN COHEN: 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.
ALLEN MOORE: These days, the Democrats think it's our turn now. We've got these large majorities and a Democrat in the White House. Let's 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.
MOORE: You've got to make both sides comfortable that the other side isn't 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 there's a law on the books that makes it illegal to use U.S. funds to pay for abortions.
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: Brenda Wilson, NPR News.
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