International Population Assistance and Family Planning Programs: Issues for Congress

Publication Date: January 2009

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Population and demographics



Since 1965, United States policy has supported international population planning based on principles of volunteerism and informed choice that gives participants access to information on all methods of birth control. This policy, however, has generated contentious debate for over two decades, resulting in frequent clarification and modification of U.S. international family planning programs.

In 1984, controversy arose over U.S. population aid policy when the Reagan Administration introduced restrictions, which became known as the "Mexico City policy." (Opponents of the policy also refer to it as the "Global Gag Rule.") The Mexico City policy denied U.S. funds to foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning, regardless of whether the money came from the U.S. government. Presidents Reagan and Bush also banned grants to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) because of its program in China, where coercive practices have been used.

President Clinton resumed UNFPA funding and repealed the Mexico City policy in 1993. President George W. Bush, however, re-applied the Mexico City restrictions. Following a State Department investigation of family planning programs in China, the Administration suspended U.S. contributions to UNFPA on July 22, 2002, citing violations of the "Kemp-Kasten" amendment. This provision bans U.S. assistance to organizations that support or participate in the management of coercive family planning programs. The suspension of U.S. contributions to UNFPA has continued through FY2005.

In his FY2006 Foreign Operations budget request, the President proposed $425 million for family planning programs, which included $25 million for UNFPA should the organization be eligible under the Kemp-Kasten provision. The final conference text (H.R. 3057/P.L. 109-102) adopted $440 million for bilateral family planning programs. Conferees also approved a total of $34 million for UNFPA, if the organization is found eligible, $11.5 million of which would be drawn from the $440 million for bilateral programs. The enacted appropriation dropped Senate modifications to Kemp-Kasten and the Mexico City policy and retained existing restrictions.

For the first time during the Bush Administration, the FY2007 budget includes less for family planning programs than the traditional $425 million request. The proposal includes about $357 million for family planning/reproductive health activities, an amount from which any UNFPA transfer would be drawn if the organization is determined eligible under the Kemp-Kasten restrictions.

In related legislation, on S. 600, an omnibus State Department/Foreign Aid authorization measure, the Senate adopted an amendment by Senator Boxer that would effectively overturn the Mexico City policy. The bill has not received a final vote in the Senate. The House version, H.R. 2601, made no similar changes. This report will be updated.