Reproductive health advocates are praising the nomination of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to serve as the next U.S. secretary of state.
President-elect Barack Obama's nomination on Monday of Clinton, a longtime champion of women's rights around the globe, suggests that international reproductive health policies may be a high priority in the Obama administration, family planning leaders said.
"She's been a strong advocate for sexual and reproductive health rights throughout all her years on the federal level, and I expect her to carry that through in her new job," said Susan Cohen, government affairs director at the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice think tank.
Although Clinton's agenda will likely be dominated by the diplomatic challenges of a global war on terror, she is expected to restore U.S. leadership on issues of population, human rights, and environmental enforcement if the Congress approves her nomination.
"She recognizes how important [reproductive rights] are to an overall foreign policy agenda," said Brian Dixon, vice president of government relations at Population Connection. "Her commitment to this is undeniable. I don't think she's going to allow it to slide too far down the list of things to be worked on."
Although Clinton's leadership would have to remain consistent with the decisions of President Obama, as secretary of state she would be able to influence global reproductive health priorities through department policies and - assuming the department's organizational structure is unchanged - through U.S. Agency for International Development funding.
The Obama administration follows eight years of U.S. opposition to several key reproductive health programs due to their support-both direct and indirect-of abortion rights.
President George W. Bush enforced a so-called "gag rule" that banned U.S.-funded international family planning groups from counseling women about abortion services in countries where abortion is allowed or outlawed. The Bush administration also cut all funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2002 - an annual loss of $21.5 million for contraception and other reproductive health services.
The Obama White House is expected to reverse several of Bush's reproductive health policies. During the campaign season, Obama insisted he would support abortion rights and "reduce unintended pregnancy by guaranteeing equity in contraceptive coverage," according to his Blueprint for Change [PDF].
The Clinton nomination further suggests that Obama would revert to the international family planning policies of the Clinton years. As a senator, Clinton introduced legislation to restore the UNFPA funding, and as a first lady, she led support for the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development, a 1994 meeting that resulted in a goal to make family planning universally available by 2015. President Bush ended U.S. support for the goal during his first term in office.
"We have every expectation that the Obama administration will reverse [the global gag rule] early in the administration soon after he's inaugurated," said Craig Lasher, a senior policy analyst at Population Action International (PAI). "Also, restoring the U.S. contribution to the U.N. Population Fund, we anticipate that happens early in the administration as well."
The United States, the world's largest donor to international reproductive health services, has provided a relatively steady level of funding over the past decade: $454.8 million in 1996, $446.5 million in 2001, and $458.1 million in 2006, according to PAI. The UNFPA, however, called for increased funding earlier this year to provide some 200 million women with access to effective family planning.
The Obama administration's support for abortion rights has already stirred criticism from Catholic leaders in the United States. "Aggressively pro-abortion policies, legislation, and executive orders will permanently alienate tens of millions of Americans, and would be seen by many as an attack on the free exercise of their religion," said Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement released last month.
Clinton's leadership will also affect U.S. diplomatic efforts during international negotiations of a climate treaty to follow the Kyoto Protocol. While campaigning for president, Clinton vowed she would cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 through a national cap-and-trade system - a promise that Obama made as well and continues to support.
Ben Block is a staff writer with the Worldwatch Institute. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo credit: Change.gov
The American people can take a stand also for the work of the United Nations Population Fund with 34 Million Friends. Asing one dollar from 34 million Americans we are almost at $4 million! Saving women's lives all over the world and offering the family planning they all deserve.
I'm concerned about this actually. While many good things came out of the Cairo and Beijing conferences in the 1990s, we saw a convergence of positions against policy that actively promoted population control. Clinton was widely seen as a spearhead of these.
Now, while I'm as against coercion as anyone, we can't afford to have a policy that means doing nothing - Government's must be proactive in helping women control their fertility and bodies.