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Friday, February 17, 2012

International Family Planning Programs: Issues for Congress


Luisa Blanchfield
Specialist in International Relations

Since 1965, the U.S. government has supported international family planning activities based on principles of voluntarism and informed choice that gives participants access to services and information on a broad range of family planning methods. U.S. family planning policy and abortion restrictions have generated contentious debate for over three decades, resulting in frequent clarification and modification of U.S. international family planning programs. Given the divisive nature of this debate, U.S. funding of these programs will likely remain a point of contention during the 112th Congress.

In 1984, controversy arose over U.S. family planning assistance when the Ronald Reagan Administration introduced restrictions that became known as the “Mexico City policy.” The Mexico City policy required foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to certify that they would not perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning—even if the activities were undertaken with non-U.S. funds. Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush also suspended grants to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) due to evidence of coercive family planning practices in China, citing violations of the “Kemp-Kasten” amendment, which bans U.S. assistance to organizations that, as determined by the President, support or participate in the management of coercive family planning programs.

President Bill Clinton resumed UNFPA funding and rescinded the Mexico City policy in 1993. In 2001, however, President George W. Bush reapplied the Mexico City policy restrictions. The Bush Administration also suspended U.S. contributions to UNFPA from FY2002 to FY2008 following a State Department investigation of family planning programs in China. In January 2009, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum rescinding the Mexico City policy. The President also stated that the United States would resume U.S. contributions to UNFPA.

Recent international family planning-related appropriations and Obama Administration requests are outlined below.

  • FY2012—On December 23, 2011, President Obama signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012 (P.L. 112-74), which directs that not less than $575 million should be made available for family planning and reproductive health activities. It also states that $35 million shall be made available for UNFPA. 
  • FY2011—FY2011 appropriations for international family planning and reproductive health are included in the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011 (P.L. 112-10), which directs that not less that $575 million should be made available for international family planning and reproductive health activities. It also allocated $40 million for UNFPA. 
  • FY2010—In December 2009, the President signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010 (P.L. 111-117), which directs that not less than $648.457 million should be made available for international family planning and reproductive health activities. Of this amount, $55 million shall be made available for UNFPA. 
For further discussion of abortion and family planning-related restrictions in U.S. legislation and policy, see CRS Report R41360, Abortion and Family Planning-Related Provisions in U.S. Foreign Assistance Law and Policy, by Luisa Blanchfield, and CRS Report RL33467, Abortion: Judicial History and Legislative Response, by Jon O. Shimabukuro.


Date of Report: February 2, 2012
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: RL33250
Price: $29.95

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