My Turn: United States is not doing its share to stop the population explosion

Posted: Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I don't believe there is anyone who would disagree with there is a correlation between the environment and quality of life. Nor would anyone disagree that Earth's projected population increase of 50 percent (presently 6 billion people) within the next 50 years will have an enormous impact on Earth's already strained ability to feed and sustain us.

But if the relationships are so obvious why doesn't the United States' fund or adequately fund organizations and programs whose mission it is to educate, provide choices and help individuals and families make sound decisions on family planning?

The United Nations Population Fund's mission is to "support countries in using population data for policies and programs to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect." To quote the executive director of UNFPA, Thoraya Amned Obaid, " First,... it is important that we put women and young people at the top of the agenda. Secondly, we have to invest more in health, especially reproductive health. We must be able to reduce poverty, slow the spread of HIV and AIDS, improve maternal health, and reduce child mortality."

The Unites States does not fund UNFPA.

The United States does not adequately fund Title X. Title X is the only federal program dedicated solely to funding family planning and related reproductive health care services. In 1999, it helped to support 61 percent of all family planning agencies. The United States Funds it at $283 million. If the funding kept pace with inflation, it would be funded at $700 million. Yet today, 3 million pregnancies, half of all pregnancies in the United States, are unintended. In 2002, 34 million women of reproductive ages (15-44) were in need of contraceptive services and supplies to prevent unintended pregnancy.

A year ago, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives introduced "Prevention First" (S20/HR 1709). It is a package of legislative initiatives to expand access to preventive health care services and programs that reduce unintended pregnancy, infection with sexually transmitted disease and the need for abortion. It would allocate an additional $100 million to Title X. It would address teen pregnancy. And what of teen pregnancy? Thirty-five percent of teen girls become pregnant at least once before they are 20 and 78 percent of teenage pregnancies are unintended. This initiative sits buried in committee.

Shortly after President Bush took office, he imposed what is referred to as the global gag rule. For international nongovernmental organizations to receive U.S. family planning assistance, they must renounce their right to use their own non-U.S. funds for abortion services, counseling or advocacy. What has been the effect? Here is one example: The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) made up of more than 150 autonomous family planning agencies in 180 countries, has lost $8 million in U.S. government funds - mostly for contraceptive supplies. (2002-2003) Clinics have quite literally closed their doors in the Congo, Cameroon, Kenya and throughout Africa.

While it is clear, even obvious, that population is a major threat to the sustainability of the planet, the United States government is not taking adequate measures. Women's health, economic empowerment, and our children's future depend on U.S. leadership.

We can begin by urging the funding of UNFPA, the adequate funding of Title X, the passing S20/HR 1709 and the repealing the global gag rule.

• Andrea Doll is a Juneau community activist.

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