TOPICS > Health

Funding Family Planning

February 12, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT
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CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: This debate has remained red hot since the days of the Reagan administration. It put tight limits on how funds of four population programs could be spent, insisting that none could be given to any family planning groups that also performed or subsidized abortions. The Clinton administration reversed that policy but congressional Republicans tried to reinstate the limits. To avoid an impasse, a compromise was reached that suspended financing for up to nine months. Now, the administration wants to lift restrictions and gain early release of the money. Tomorrow, the House will vote on that proposal. There is also a vote on a second measure aimed at making sure that none of the money goes to financing abortions overseas. The Clinton administration opposes that, and yesterday Secretary of State Madeleine Albright went to the House International Relations Committee and took issue with its sponsor. Here is a part of their exchange.

REP. CHRISTOPHER SMITH, (R) New Jersey: (Yesterday) In your presentation you asked for early release of the population control funding. I too will push for release of even more funding for population control but with the very modest pro-life conditions that were in effect during the Reagan and Bush years that separated abortion from family planning. I believe the real consensus is with providing family planning funds but now, however unwittingly, empowering the pro-abortion movement overseas to bring down the right-to-life laws as they exist in approximately one hundred countries of the world.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, Secretary of Defense: The U.S. does not fund the performance or promotion of abortion anywhere in the world. And what we are concerned about is that the restrictions that are envisioned in your language would preclude USAID from working with organizations that provide effective voluntary family planning and women’s health services in countries where abortion is legal. I think the issue here, sir, is that we desperately need the money in order to try to get women out of the terrible poverty that has existed, the family planning programs, not to fund abortion.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Now for two perspectives. Gloria Feldt is president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Helen Alvare is spokesman for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. And starting with you, Ms. Alvare, you just heard the Secretary of State say that this money is not going to be used for abortion. What’s your problem with it? Why do you think the legislation that we just heard described needs to be there?

HELEN ALVARE, National Conference of Catholic Bishops: We support putting a ban on giving moneys to groups that use even their own money to perform or promote abortions for this reason–

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You mean their private money?

HELEN ALVARE: Their private money. It’s well known–and it was one of the things that led Congress not to give money to these groups beginning in 1970 on a domestic basis–that when you give money to groups that not only promote contraception but also promote abortion in an integrated way, you actually drive abortion rates up, not down. The major argument that our opponents have been making is we want this money released to us in order to make abortions rare. But, in fact, if you give money to groups who also provide abortion, the one thing you’re going to be sure of is that you will make abortions not rare but more frequent. And I want to make clear here that there is no question that some money will be released for family planning here. The two legislative options on the table are less money for family planning, but it goes to groups that perform abortion, or more money, but it doesn’t go to groups that also perform abortion. They’re opting for less money. They would prefer to have less money, even though they’re claiming that contraceptives are the answer to lowering the abortion rate, just because they want that money to groups that perform abortions, and they are rejecting the option of having more money.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Is that right, Ms. Feldt?

GLORIA FELDT, Planned Parenthood: No. Let’s be real clear about what’s going on here because as a matter of fact, the effort that Congressman Smith is making right now will result in no money being released, and here’s why–and I might also add that it’s well known that the organization that Ms. Alvare represents opposes family planning, and they’re using the abortion issue, using abortion politics in the most cynical possible way to keep family planning from the world’s women when they need it so very, very desperately. The fact of the matter if that Rep. Smith has voted against family planning 27 times during his congressional career. He has never cast a vote for family planning. And his measure is in no way designed to release more money for family planning. He knows that his resolution will die in the Senate, and that no funds will be released at all.

HELEN ALVARE: Gloria is actually mis-stating the case here. In fact, his resolution clearly states that more money will be released for family planning so long as it doesn’t go to organizations that promote or perform abortions. As to our position on–

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Is that mis-reading?

GLORIA FELDT: No.

HELEN ALVARE: That’s what is says in black and white.

GLORIA FELDT: That is what it says, but that is not what will happen because it is not a measure that will pass in the Senate because a gag rule will not be accepted in this country. What physicians are able to tell their patients about their medical situation is–should not be subject to a gag rule. And what we should be telling other countries to do about their policies on these matters should not be subject for this kind of legislation. Let me finish, if I might. The reality here is that the world has changed since the Reagan and Bush administrations when there was this kind of an international gag rule in effect. And what has changed is that women’s organizations worldwide will not accept this kind of censorship. They will not accept this. And so most of the organizations that provide family planning will not even accept the money. So let’s assume for a moment that the measure passed, which it will not, with the gag rule on it. The organizations that provide the family planning the most effectively would not take them, and more women would be without family planning worldwide.

HELEN ALVARE: As to the statement that our position on contraception is at play in this debate, there is no legislative possibility in this debate, either the one supported by her or the one by Congressman Smith, that would not give money to family planning. The only question at stake is whether it will go to groups that perform or promote abortion. It is well known and statistically proven that if you give it to groups that not only provide contraception but provide abortion, it’s an integrated part of their services, abortion rates go up, not down.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Let’s just take that point. Is that the–I mean, does that square with your statistics?

GLORIA FELDT: It simply is–it doesn’t make sense. And when you look at–when you look at, for example, the family planning services that are being provided now with some of these funds in Russia where abortion was, has been for many years the primary means of birth control, and the abortion–the number of abortions in Russia in the last–I think it’s been about seven or eight years since these family planning services have been introduced have declined from 4.4 million to 2.7 million. And they are continuing to decline. And one program that was, in fact, not funded by these funds but was privately funded through Planned Parenthood–Planned Parenthood of America’s international division–the number of abortions per births when we started in 1992 was 2.2 per–2.2 abortions to every single birth.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So your point–

GLORIA FELDT: Once–in just three years that had declined to .6 abortions per birth.

HELEN ALVARE: If I might respond–

GLORIA FELDT: That is really an effective way to reduce the number of abortions.

HELEN ALVARE: If Planned Parenthood’s ultimate goal were really to provide the maximum amount of contraception that money could buy to any particular country, then as to the legislative choices offered to them, it would seem choose the one that provided more money, $385 million this year, versus the proposal that they’re supporting, $215 million a year. The reason why they’re supporting less money for contraception, which they claim is the answer to making abortion rare, is because they do not want any strings on their ability to promote or perform abortion.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Is that–let’s just take that point, Ms. Feldt. Is that right? I mean, is that Planned Parenthood’s primary goal here, to promote abortions and support groups that perform abortions?

GLORIA FELDT: Planned Parenthood’s mission is to make sure that every child is a wanted child. And that means first and foremost family planning, preventing family planning services to enable people to plan and space their children according to their individual means and choices in life. We are certainly pro-choice. We believe that safe legal abortions should be available to people. But that’s not what this legislation is about. Let’s get back to what the issue is. 90 percent of the American people believe that family planning services should be available. 72 percent of Americans are willing to back that up with their pocket books, to spend more of their tax dollars to make family planning services available to prevent unintended pregnancies. If we are just applying simple logic, abortions only occur because of unintended pregnancies. Our main goal, as Planned Parenthood and the main goal of international family planning, is to enable women, enable families to plan and space their children. And as part of the U.S. foreign assistance, it is incredibly important to enable families to have this option because then they can get educated, women can enter the work force. It makes sense from a humanitarian perspective, from an economic perspective–

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What about–excuse me–because the Secretary of State also made the point that this money goes to a lot of other things, and all of them will be curtailed, if not obliterated, if this money is not–

HELEN ALVARE: Well, if Congressman Smith’s proposals go through, not only will those be funded, but they’ll receive more funds than they would receive under the proposal that Planned Parenthood supports. One of the most dangerous things about giving money to Planned Parenthood is that it has proven again and again in the U.S. and abroad that when organizations like Planned Parenthood that promote abortion and a very broad permissive abortion license are subsidized, the one thing you can count on is what happened in the United States after abortion became legal. The numbers of abortions per day went up to six to eleven times per year. You can count on it here and you can count on it abroad.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: We can’t–

GLORIA FELDT: We started counting them at that point in time. This is about family planning. It’s really–

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: We can’t resolve that. What do you think will be the impact if Congressman Smith’s legislation passes, briefly?

GLORIA FELDT: If Congressman Smith’s legislation passes, if his resolution passes, it will not pass the Senate. The funds will not be released, and women around the world will die and suffer as a result.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What do you think the effect will be?

HELEN ALVARE: I think the effect will be that Planned Parenthoods abroad will no longer have the ability, as they did in the past, to have U.S. subsidies while at the same time promoting abortion illegally in countries where abortion is not legal and promoting abortion as a longer license for people, and, thus, upping abortion rates in countries, not making it more rare.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Well, we’ll see what happens tomorrow when the vote is taken. Thank you both for joining us.