Wednesday, July 1, 2015 | News

Changing the world: panel discusses 50 years of U.S. family planning assistance

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. For more information, contact