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'If we don't pass this, women will die'

<p>&lt;p&gt;Let&amp;#039;s take a stroll down memory lane.&lt;/p&gt;</p>
Women in the Philippines wait for check-ups during a medical mission organized by UNFPA.
Women in the Philippines wait for check-ups during a medical mission organized by UNFPA.

Let's take a stroll down memory lane. Just 10 years ago, the Bush/Cheney administration requested $34 million for the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), and for good reason. Since its inception in 1969, the Fund has won widespread recognition for its work in improving the lives of women in developing countries.

In explaining why the administration sought increased support for the Population Fund, Secretary of State Colin Powell explained, "We recognize that UNFPA does invaluable work through its programs in maternal and child health care, voluntary family planning, screening for reproductive tract cancers, breast-feeding promotion and HIV/AIDS prevention."

Congress agreed. The vote in the House was 357-66, while Senate support was unanimous.

In 2012, just a decade later, House Republicans intend to eliminate all UNFPA funding.

The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved a 2013 State Department funding bill that includes controversial anti-abortion language. [...]On abortion, the bill cuts off all funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and reinstates the Mexico City policy, also known as the global gag rule. The rule says that all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive U.S. funding must refrain from performing or promoting abortion services.

For the right, UNFPA is an international menace that supports China's one-child policy. That's not true, but the facts dodn't seem to matter.

As The Hill report documented, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) offered an amendment that would fund UNFPA but prevent money from being used in China in support of its one-child policy or forced abortions, but Republicans rejected it. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) offered an amendment that would have funded UNFPA to provide maternal healthcare and treat genital mutilation, but Republicans rejected it, too.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) offered an amendment that would have restored UNFPA funding in countries where USAID is not present. "If we don't pass this, women will die," Lowey said.

Republicans rejected it, too.

When we talk about the Republican "war on women," we tend to think of how GOP policies effect women here in the United States. This week, we were reminded that the Republican campaign is actually international in nature.

And what about the Mexico City policy -- the "global gag rule" -- House Republicans are fighting to reinstate? The policy bans federal aid to family planning groups that offer abortion counseling. (It got its name because Ronald Reagan launched the ban in Mexico City in 1984.)

This is a horrendous policy.

The "Mexico City" policy prohibits US dollars and contraceptive supplies from going to any international family planning program that provides abortions or counsels women about their reproductive health options. The policy isn't about money going to pay for abortions. Even those groups that use only private funds for abortion services -- where abortion is legal -- are barred from assistance. This is money going to family planning programs.President Clinton rescinded the Mexico City policy in 1993. But President Bush reinstated and expanded it on his first day in office. Now not only are organizations that provide or counsel about abortion services affected; those that dare to take part in a public discussion about legalizing abortion are also affected (hence the name "global gag rule"). Of course, those that call for restricting abortion rights are not affected.This policy has nothing to do with government-sponsored abortions overseas. Ten years before the gag rule was in place the law strictly prohibited that. This policy is about disqualifying pro-choice organizations from receiving US international family planning funding.Under Bush's policy, organizations that play a vital role in women's health are forced to make an impossible choice. If they refuse to be "gagged," they lose the funding that enables them to help women and families who are cut off from basic health care and family planning. But if they accept funding, they must accept restrictions that jeopardize the health of the women they serve.

President Obama, of course, overturned the Mexico City policy in his first week in office, which is why congressional Republicans are pushing to reinstate it. If Mitt Romney is elected, it's all but certain the global gag rule will return.