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Prevention Prevails

Ellen Marshall

Congress voted Thursday to enable family planning organizations that cannot accept financial support from the United States to at least receive contraceptives to provide to their clients.

After the longest debate on any issue in the bill funding the State Department and all our foreign assistance programs, prevention prevailed when it came to the debate on contraception.

Well, the debate was mostly on contraception, but opponents of these basic health services stuck to what they think will help them win—inflammatory statements about abortion. Arguments, I might add, that were so unnecessarily inflammatory and absurd that they shouldn't even be repeated here.

But the majority view of the country was represented as the majority view in the Congress on Thursday, with votes that will enable family planning organizations that cannot accept financial support from the United States to at least receive contraceptives to provide to their clients. Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) drove home the point time and again that this provision is about preventing unintended pregnancies, abortions, and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.

Anti-choice Democrats Representatives James Langevin, Henry Cuellar and an especially animated and dedicated Tim Ryan joined the many voices reinforcing the fact that the more contraceptives that are available to those that want them means fewer unintended pregnancies and abortions. In a letter to their colleagues, Langevin and Cuellar stated,

Roe has collapsed and Texas is in chaos.

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These contraceptives are badly needed. Since the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy in 2001, U.S. shipments of contraceptives have ceased to 20 developing nations in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. As a result, unintended pregnancies, abortions, and sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in many areas. The NGOs most affected by the Mexico City Policy are often the ones with the most extensive distribution networks and the largest outreach to young people and rural areas. They often provide the only family planning program in a region, and they—and the people they serve—have suffered severely from the cutoff of contraceptive shipments.

The opposition responded with more wound-up rhetoric that really missed the whole point of the amendment; that is their strategy—to always muddy the water about contraception with abortion. But given that the National Right to Life Committee is including this vote in its scorecard of key votes, it's not surprising that they would want to make this an abortion debate rather than about what the provision actually does—expand access to contraception.

The truth is, it's a good strategy for the NRLC. ‘Fessing up to the fact that they (and some of their Congressional allies) oppose contraception wouldn't be as popular with the public.

Ah well. Though the debate was muddy at times, the outcome was clear—the majority of the Congress (218-205) understands that expanding access to contraception is a smart prevention strategy.

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