Happy mom.Cross-posted from RH Reality Check.

Few examples of U.S. foreign assistance provide benefits as tangible, cost-effective, life-saving, and critical for both the United States and aid recipients as do international family planning and reproductive health services. Women and families across the developing world are healthier and stronger — and societies are more stable — as a result of access to basic health services.

According to the Guttmacher Institute [PDF], for every $10 million invested in international family planning and reproductive health:

  • 610,000 women and couples receive contraceptive services and supplies;
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  • 190,000 fewer unintended pregnancies occur;
  • 83,000 abortions are avoided;
  • 500 maternal deaths are averted; and
  • 2,300 fewer children lose their mothers.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations [PDF], studies indicate that meeting the unmet need for family planning could reduce maternal deaths by approximately 35 percent, reduce abortion in developing countries by 70 percent, and reduce infant mortality by 10 to 20 percent.

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I am proud to have increased funding for international family planning and reproductive health each year that I served as chair of the Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, culminating with a peak of $648 million in Fiscal Year 2010.

Unfortunately, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives has empowered extremists with zeal for both broad, haphazard budget cuts and a commitment to rolling back women’s health rights. In H.R. 1, the majority’s original budget proposal for the current fiscal year:

  • Overall funding for international family planning was reduced to $440 million;
  • United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the largest multilateral family planning and reproductive health provider in the world, was banned from receiving U.S. foreign assistance;
  • one proposed amendment would have completely eliminated U.S. funding for international family planning; and
  • the Global Gag Rule, which would hold recipients of U.S. foreign aid accountable to standards that would be unconstitutional here, was reinstated. By forcing eligible health providers to choose between receiving U.S. funds or providing comprehensive, truthful health care to patients, the Global Gag Rule muzzles free speech and interferes with the doctor-patient relationship.

Read more on population. Check out our series 7 Billion: What to expect when you're expanding

In the final funding agreement, we successfully removed the Global Gag Rule and the ban on funding for UNFPA, while overall funding for international family planning was cut by only 5 percent. However, for 2012, the Republican majority has again proposed significant funding reductions, including a 25 percent cut to family planning and reproductive health programs, and restrictions, including, among other limitations, the Global Gag Rule and ban on  UNFPA funding.

Further reducing or eliminating funding for international family planning and reproductive health programs would mean more unintended pregnancies, more maternal deaths, and more children who lose their mothers during childbirth. Perhaps most tragically ironic, reductions in funding will result in more abortions as fewer women have the ability to control when they become pregnant and how many children they have.

These attacks against reproductive health would condemn women and families to powerlessness over the size of their families, leave them vulnerable to preventable diseases, and weaken their ability to contribute to their family and community’s economic stability.

With the global population expected to surpass 7 billion, we can only expect that the number of women with unmet need for family planning services, now an estimated 215 million women globally, will only increase. And unfortunately, so will the health disparities and instability that can result from allowing those needs to go unmet if Congress and the administration do not make this program a priority.

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