These days, you have to be thankful for the good news on reproductive health, no matter how small or fleeting.
So, in an effort to see the cup as, say, an eighth full, let’s take a gander at some happenings in the world of international women’s health. Pessimists might be inclined to focus on the fact that the House budget bill would slash international funding for family planning by nearly one-third, entirely defund the United Nations Population Fund and make the Global Gag rule permanent.
But I’d like to point out that at least the House didn’t put forward the proposal from Ohio’s Representative Bob Latta (pictured here in a fashionable red-patterned tie) that would have entirely eliminated international family planning funds that provide life-saving care to 27.5 million of the world’s women. (Perhaps Latta will have better luck with his other big effort to improve life on this planet, a proposal to introduce a Ronald Reagan commemorative coin.)
In other good news, the Senate rejected their spending bill that would have cut Obama’s request for international family planning and reproductive health funds by 39 percent. Of course, that means we might have to shut down the government—and that whatever spending bill we end up with might not treat the poor women of the world kindly. But why borrow trouble?
In the spirit of optimism on the international health front, I’m going to turn our attention now to an area that’s ripe for improvement. That’s right, this is not a story about failures, really, but instead about our potential to serve the women of the world better, a potential that can be fairly easily realized. I say that last part because the politicians standing in our way this time aren’t antichoice Republicans but prochoice Democrats—and because we don’t need to pass any new laws to do it. (With this Congress, this is happy news indeed!)
Instead, the story of Chisale Mhango, a Malawian ob gyn and public health expert, is about interpreting existing restrictions on abortion—an issue on which, it turns out, the Obama administration isn’t as forward-thinking as you might hope. Let me explain. Mhango recently ran into trouble with US Agency for International Development, which had been paying his salary while he worked for the Malawian Ministry of Health. Mhango was told he couldn’t go to a conference this past August where he was going to present research about the magnitude of unsafe abortion in his country. And though he didn’t speak at the meeting, some months afterward Mhango and USAID agreed that his contract should be terminated early.