UNFPA Latest Victim of House Republican War on Women

Well, they're at it again. Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are using smoke and mirrors to try to distract us all from their real intentions of being the most anti-woman, anti-life crusaders the U.S. Congress has seen in decades. But, we're not falling for their thinly-veiled hypocrisy. And neither should the U.S. public.

Republicans voted eleven separate times earlier this week to block funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). That's right, eleven separate times in the span of just three hours. What exactly were they voting against? For starters, they voted against continued funding for prevention and treatment of obstetric fistula, a debilitating condition that results from obstructed and prolonged labor and leaves women shunned by their families and their communities. Who could possibly vote to continue the needless suffering of such women? How about Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who has made it his mantra to prevent and treat this exact condition? Yes, that's right, the very man who never shies away from taking credit for the creation of USAID's obstetric fistula program voted against support for this same service. But, he wasn't the only one—all Republicans on the committee voted against funding for the prevention and treatment of obstetric fistula.

Then there are the Republicans who voted against continued reproductive health care in the aftermath of natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami in Southeast Asia. And the Republicans who voted against funding for programs that help survivors of gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo where rape is a part of everyday life for millions of women and girls. How about the Republicans who voted against efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation, a horrific practice that robs young girls of their dignity and their genitalia? And, of course, there are the Republicans who voted against continued funding of UNFPA's efforts to prevent forced marriage of girls, some of whom are as young as four, if not younger, when they are promised in marriage to much older men. Sadly, in every one of these instances, every single Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee chose to vote against women, against girls, and against services that could save their lives. How one can claim the pro-life mantle while simultaneously voting against continued funding for life-saving health services is beyond me. But, that's exactly what the Republicans did. And they did it eleven times over.

But, let's be real. The committee's approval of a bill to defund UNFPA (H.R. 2059), on a strict party-line vote of 23-17 no less, was never about women or about girls or even about protecting life. It was about scoring political points in a politically motivated smear campaign against UNFPA, which provides essential reproductive health services for women, men, and young people in 150 countries worldwide. When pressed, Republicans wholeheartedly admitted that UNFPA does amazing work that improves women's and children's lives around the globe. But, they say that cannot excuse the fact that UNFPA works in China and, therefore, must be, as a matter of fact, supporting China's one-child policy. What they fail to produce is any evidence, any evidence at all, that this is true. And that's because there isn't any. Period. But, that didn't stop committee members from continuing to make unsubstantiated claims throughout the entire three-hour debate. Time and time again, they cited a 2008 State Department report that claimed UNFPA was complicit in the Chinese government's coercive population control program. They conveniently forgot to mention a more recent 2009 State Department report that found the exact opposite.

No problem because there's always the old "guilt by association" tactic. Yes, that's right, the fact that UNFPA operates in some of the same counties where the Chinese one-child policy operates is enough to prove complicity, at least according to Republicans on the committee. Several Democratic members on the committee, including Ranking Member Howard Berman (CA) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (VA), tested the Republican consistency on that front as well. They argued that if guilt by association is the way we should be making policy, then shouldn't we also be holding US corporations that operate in China culpable in China's one-child policy? And what about tourists who travel to China; are they complicit as well since they also spend money in those same counties? Or how about holding the entire US government culpable because, after all, we provide export subsidies to China and provide China with most favored nation trading status? Selectively applying arguments only when it suits your ideology is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and unfortunately, we see it all too often in Washington these days.

The other trick we see all too often in Washington is the good ol' fungibility argument. You know, this is the popular one that Republicans have used on the domestic front to try to defund Planned Parenthood. They say that even though no US funding for UNFPA is spent in China (due to existing congressional restrictions), the very fact that US funding goes to support UNFPA in the other 149 countries in which it operates, allows funding to be freed up to support China's abhorrent practices. If that reasoning held true, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) argued, Republicans should also oppose funding that subsidizes transportation costs that help the Catholic Church operate schools and charitable programs because this then frees up money that supports the cover-up of sexual abuse. Carrying the Republicans' logic of fungibility to the Catholic Church quickly fell on deaf ears as far as the Republicans were concerned. No surprise there as consistency has never been a hallmark of ideology.

Speaking of consistency, or lack thereof, how about the "we just can't afford it" argument? This one is my favorite. The U.S. is broke. Period. Therefore, we just cannot afford to send the taxpayers' hard-earned money overseas when so many of our own are hurting. I get it. Times are tough and we need to be smart about our investments. Why then cut funding to some of the most cost-effective programs we have, programs that support voluntary family planning, reduce maternal and infant mortality, and create more equitable and stable communities? If House Republicans were honest in their efforts to cut spending, it would be one thing. But, to argue that we simply cannot afford life-saving care for women and girls around the world all the while the Speaker of the House authorizes a tripling of the amount of taxpayers' hard-earned money used to defend an inherently discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act is hypocrisy at its most extreme.

Well, when you farm out policymaking to the masses, that's to be expected, right? During the committee's debate, Republicans touted the fact that H.R. 2059 was the first winner of Majority Leader Eric Cantor's "YouCut" program. In an effort to bring Washington to the people, this website affords citizens the opportunity to vote on programs they want to see cut, programs cherry-picked by Republican leaders. I'm all about educating voters and ensuring that a multitude of voices and opinions are expressed to our elected officials. What I'm not about is delegating legislative duties to unelected individuals in a manner akin to "American Idol" or "Dancing with the Stars." Reality shows may be big business for the entertainment industry, but last I checked our system of government was built on principles of fairness and democracy, not on an online popularity contest.

In an era of fiscal restraint, we should absolutely scrutinize funding decisions. But, we must do so honestly and in good faith. Selectively applying arguments when it supports your ideological agenda may be a convenient way to dismantle programs you disagree with, but it's no way to run a government. It's time we all got real and call this what it truly is—deficit and moral hypocrisy. The real losers here are not the elected leaders who taint the system or even the public citizens who lose faith in those elected leaders. No, it's the millions of women, men, and young people around the world who rely on UNFPA to keep them healthy, safe, and alive.

This post was originally published at RH Reality Check, a site of news, community and commentary for reproductive health and justice


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