On Friday, June 26th, Ipas President and CEO, Elizabeth Maguire, participated in a panel marking the 50th anniversary of the U.S. international family planning program, recognized as one of the most effective programs in U.S. foreign aid. The panel was hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington-based research and policy institution chartered by the U.S. Congress. The speakers included four other former directors of the U.S. Agency for International Development Office of Population and Reproductive Health, as well as the current director, Ellen Starbird. In her remarks, Maguire pointed to the creation of postabortion care programs and improvements in the quality of family planning care as program innovations during her tenure as Office Director from 1993-1999, along with new initiatives focused on gender issues and services for adolescents and young people. She expressed regret that under the legal limitations governing the program, she was not able to develop a focus on expanding women’s access to comprehensive abortion care.
All of the speakers addressed the challenges posed by political leaders — both in the White House and the U.S. Congress — who were opposed to abortion rights, and in some cases family planning itself, resulting in an extra layer of scrutiny and other limitations on the program. Steve Sinding spoke of the challenge of heading the Office of Population under the Reagan Administration when the Mexico City Policy was established in 1984, which rendered foreign non-governmental organizations ineligible for family planning funds if they engaged in abortion activities even with their non-U.S. funds.
Maguire expressed her frustration that the Helms Amendment continues to hamstring U.S. family planning programs from providing safe abortion care under any circumstances, although it should legally allow support for abortion in cases of pregnancies due to rape or
incest, or those that endanger the life of the woman.
“The fact that Obama refuses to interpret the Helms amendment the way that it should be interpreted is outrageous,” said Duff Gillespie, who led the Office of Population in the late 1980s.
Under Maguire’s leadership, Ipas has helped to mobilize a broad coalition of nongovernmental organizations calling for the correct interpretation and ultimate repeal of the Helms Amendment, originally adopted back in 1973.
Overall, the panel underscored the need for continuing U.S. global leadership in ensuring the ability of couples and individuals to exercise their reproductive rights, including through
universal access to modern methods of contraception. The whole panel discussion can be viewed online here.
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