Rep. Ilhan Omar Spars With USAID Official Over Family Planning Funding

By Patrick Goodenough | July 12, 2019 | 4:33 AM EDT

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on Thursday drew a link between access to family planning and education and employment for women. She then slapped down a USAID official when he pointed to work the agency does to advance education and employment for women.

“That’s well and dandy,” interjected Omar, cutting off USAID chief human capital officer Bob Leavitt. “My question was investments in family planning.”

The exchange occurred as House Foreign Affairs Committee members asked officials about the administration’s State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development operations budget request for fiscal year 2020.

Omar told the panel that some of the policies of the Trump administration have been “detrimental to women’s prosperity and empowerment, in a whole host of ways.”

Academic research, she said, shows that “gains in women’s education and employment can be attributed to increasing access to contraceptions; that access has given millions of women control over their future and better enable them to participate in workforce and contribute both to local and global economies.”

Omar then asked the officials how the policy priority aligns with proposed cuts in the FY 2020 budget for international family planning and reproductive health programs.

The first official she asked, USAID assistant administrator Frederick Nutt, said he had not been briefed on the matter but would take the question for the record.

Leavitt, the second USAID official on the panel of witnesses then told Omar that the agency would provide information about “the breadth and extent of our basic education programs and higher education programs around the world, and how in many cases they prioritize access to education to girls, to young women.”

It would also provide details, he continued, about “how we advance entrepreneurial types of programs, economic livelihood types of programs in support of girls and women. So, we have a wealth of programs that help advance –”

“No, that’s, that’s well and dandy,” Omar said. “My question was investments in family planning and the opportunities to have access to contraceptions?”

She then said again that research shows access to family planning gives families the ability to advance, as girls and women can get an education and enter the workforce.

“And we look forward to following up with you, with a detailed follow-up,” Leavitt said.

‘Gag’

Planned Parenthood in a tweet afterwards thanked Omar “for raising the importance of intl family planning in today’s hearing.”

The administration’s FY 2020 State and USAID budget request includes $237 million for international family planning and reproductive health, down from $330.5 million in the administration’s FY 2019 request.

Irrespective of administration requests, the U.S. Congress has over the past decade appropriated around $600 million each year for international family planning and reproductive health.

A recently-released USAID report says the agency since 2012 has trained 13.3 million health workers in maternal and child health and nutrition; reached 24 million women a year with voluntary family planning services; helped 12 million women give birth in a health facility; provided post-delivery care for 9.3 million newborns; provided 85.2 million diarrhea and pneumonia treatments to children; vaccinated 41.1 million children against deadly preventable diseases; helped 14.9 million people get access to basic drinking water; and reached 28 million children with nutrition programs.

Demonstrators in D.C. protest the Mexico City Policy, which critics call the global gag rule. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Democrats are especially unhappy about what they call the “global gag rule,” the Reagan-era Mexico City Policy which, as strengthened under the Trump administration, withholds U.S. foreign health assistance funding from non-governmental organizations that promote or perform abortions, and from NGOs that give money to other NGOs that promote or perform abortions.

Critics like Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) say the regulation forces NGOs to make a choice – either provide “limited” reproductive health services while accepting U.S. foreign assistance, or provide “inclusive” reproductive health care services but forgo U.S. aid.

Since the Reagan years the Mexico City Policy has been implemented by Republican presidents and revoked by Democratic ones. Shaheen and Lowey this year introduced bills in the Senate and House that would repeal the policy permanently.

The Senate version’s co-sponsors include all seven 2020 presidential candidates in the Senate – Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Lowey’s bill in the House has among its co-sponsors two of the three House members still in the 2020 race – Reps. Seth Moulton (Mass.) and Tim Ryan (Ohio). The third House presidential hopeful, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), is not listed as a co-sponsor.

In a foreign policy speech in New York City on Thursday, former Vice President Joe Biden, currently leading the 2020 Democratic presidential polls, also took aim at the Mexico City Policy.

A factsheet on the speech issued by his campaign said that Biden as president would “end the Global Gag Rule, which prevents money from going to international NGOs that even talk about abortion.”

In the actual speech, Biden avoided the word “abortion,” saying that he would end the “global gag rule that prevents money from getting to NGOs who even talk about family planning.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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