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The Hill: Standing for the world’s women

Dec 28, 2015

The following article appeared in The Hill on December 28, 2015. A link to the article can be found here.

In any legislation as wide ranging as the recently passed $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill, there will always be a need for compromise. I chose to support the omnibus because it will provide much needed federal funding for my constituents in Illinois’ Fifth District, especially in the areas of transportation, public safety, and environmental protections. However, I am extremely disappointed in the so-called “pro-life protections” of the omnibus that some in Congress have touted, including slashing UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, by seven percent, or $2.5 million.

UNFPA’s role in any humanitarian situation is to ensure that expectant women have access to safe childbirth delivery services, no matter what the circumstances, in order to protect the lives and health of both mothers and babies. More people are displaced since World War II and millions more are impacted by natural disasters. Of the more than 100 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in 2015, an estimated one quarter were women and girls of reproductive age.

Given this need, the timing of this cut couldn’t be worse. Even framing the cut as “pro-life” makes little sense, as UNFPA does not fund or provide abortions. As an unnecessary precaution, Congressional legislation also forbids U.S. funds to UNFPA to be used for abortion. The voluntary family planning done by UNFPA provides help to prevent recourse to abortion.
The cut to UNFPA is a direct blow to the expectant mothers and babies who need it the most. Women do not stop getting pregnant or having babies when a crisis hits.

Consider Leyla Ashur, recently profiled in UNFPA’s 2015 State of the World Population Report, who was three months pregnant when she and her husband and young sons fled the violence of ISIS in Syria. Feeling insecure in Turkey where they landed, the family trekked to the coastal town of Bodrum and paid a smuggler to bring them to Greece in a rubber raft. They were one of a few hundred Syrians allowed to cross into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia from Greece.

Without access to clean and safe facilities, prenatal care, critical equipment and skilled health workers, women like Leyla are vulnerable to miscarriage, morbidity like obstetric fistula and even death. UNFPA is part of a limited community meeting the specific needs of pregnant women, and supports a mobile health clinic on the Macedonian border with Greece which provides free, gynecological services for refugees and migrants.

Although issues like prenatal care and safe facilities can often seem far removed from our daily lives, there was a time not too long ago when right here in our own country, women couldn't access family planning services. Although things have changed a great deal here in the U.S., we still have to fight for women's rights every day. And the fight is even more robust in developing countries or conflict zones where women are marginalized, abused and discriminated against on a daily basis. As the largest contributor to the United Nations and funder of international family planning, the U.S. is in a unique position to continue to lead the global agenda and place reproductive health at its core.  

As a husband and a father of two daughters, I want young women around the globe to have the same rights and opportunities as my daughters. I wish Congressional leadership could meet Leyla to see the realities of her life firsthand.

I call on all those who care about the needs of women, especially in crisis settings, to reconsider this harmful spending cut to the United Nations Population Fund and the live-saving work they do each day.