In a narrow defeat for women across the world, the House voted 216 to 211 to block an amendment to this year's foreign aid bill that would have provided $100 million over two years in international family planning funds. Co-sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), the measure was an attempt to counteract Bush's decision to block $34 million in funds last year. Bush refused to follow Congressional approval to allocate these funds because of allegations by the right-wing Population Research Institute that UNFPA programs in China used coercive family planning policies - allegations that were later disproved by a State Department fact-finding team.
Crowley decided to help lead efforts to reinstate these funds after he spoke with a birthing assistant in Malawi, who asked for kerosene so she could see during her patients' labor and clean razor blades so that she could cut umbilical cords, according to the Washington Post. "That had a profound impact on me," Crowley told the Post. "It's not about abortion...It's more than about providing contraception. It's about child survival and maternal survival."
US contributions to the UNFPA make up 13 percent of the total funding for its international family planning programs - enabling UNFPA to prevent two million unwanted pregnancies, 4,700 maternal deaths, nearly 60,000 cases of maternal illnesses and over 77,000 cases of infant and child death. The failure of the United States to fund the agency, which offers family planning services in more than 140 countries "means more unnecessary and unsafe abortions, increased cases of HIV/AIDS, more girls suffering from fistulas and female genital mutilation and more women dying in childbirth," said Phyllis Oakley, chair of the United States Committee for United States Population Fund, as reported by Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Reports.
To replace government funds, the 34 Million Friends campaign is a grassroots movement that has sprung up in the US to raise money for the UNFPA. It announced its first million in May.