Opinion: The US Action Endangering Mothers Worldwide
Congress should fully restore funding for UNFPA’s lifesaving work
As the world faces multiple humanitarian crises around the world, few political actions have been as cruel and shortsighted as the Trump administration’s decision to cut off funding to the United Nations Population Fund, or UNFPA.
This U.N. agency provides lifesaving maternal health care in regions of the world plagued by conflict, famine, and disaster and has saved countless lives around the world. With millions of refugees forced from their homes during the reign of terror across the Middle East brought on by groups such as ISIS, cutting funding for one of the world’s foremost humanitarian medical organizations is reckless, immoral, and actually harmful to our national security.
During humanitarian crises, women and girls often have very limited or no options for basic health services, such as contraception, while at the same time, they are at greater risk of sexual violence. This dangerous combination means more unplanned pregnancies, more birth complications, and more mothers and children facing illness and death. In fact, more than 500 women die every day from complications of pregnancy and childbirth in countries affected by crisis. That’s equivalent to a sold-out 747 passenger plane crashing every single day.
In some of these crisis areas, UNFPA is the only health care provider. This agency — which most people in the U.S. have never heard of — reaches the world’s most marginalized women, those most in need of care, providing lifesaving health care and helping women restore their dignity.
Despite the critical role that UNFPA plays around the world and the importance of providing basic health services in areas of the world that can degenerate into safe havens for terrorists who would threaten our national security, the Trump administration has proposed to cut off all U.S. funding for this international agency. This would be devastating for UNFPA. As the wealthiest country in the world, the U.S. is a much-needed donor to UNFPA’s humanitarian work. Last year alone, with much-needed U.S. funding, UNFPA was able to deliver basic maternal health care to 9 million people in crisis situations. Eliminating the United States’ contributions will have dire and deadly consequences.
After the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010, UNFPA opened a midwifery school and training program to rebuild the country’s contingent of skilled birth attendants. When disaster struck again in the form of Hurricane Matthew last year, a UNFPA-trained midwife risked her own life to deliver six babies in waist-deep water — all by flashlight. In Jordan, UNFPA supports the sole maternity ward for the Zaatari refugee camp’s tens of thousands of residents, enabling pregnant Syrian refugees to have safe births and healthy babies. To date, UNFPA has helped deliver more than 7,500 babies at the camp without a single maternal death. In South Sudan and around the world, UNFPA is a key partner in a program offering free surgery to help women suffering from obstetric fistula, a devastating — and almost entirely preventable — birth injury sustained in prolonged labor without a skilled attendant or timely medical intervention.
Americans are compassionate people. When we see people in need, we want to help. Contributing to UNFPA is one of the most effective ways for the U.S. to help some of the most vulnerable women and girls around the world. It is also an important tool in our country’s soft-power toolbox that enables the U.S. to help fill vacuums in some of the most dangerous places in the world that could deteriorate into safe havens for people that would do us harm.
No matter where you live, the status of women has a significant impact on the capacity of a nation or region to recover from a crisis and achieve future stability and prosperity. We must make a firm statement that the U.S. values the lives of women around the world and will continue to support the best health outcomes for mothers everywhere.
I call on my colleagues in Congress to fully restore funding for UNFPA’s lifesaving humanitarian work. Women and families around the world truly depend on our action.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney is a Democrat representing New York’s 12th District.