Bill calls for U.S. to integrate comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services to global efforts

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Imagine if a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health program comprised an integral part of the U.S. global health response. Funding would be authorized and services would be available to build a continuum of care that would promote voluntary family planning information and resources where unmet demand  exists, provide comprehensive sexuality education, link contraceptive services to other health services, and lower the incidence of unsafe abortions.

It would be good news for the estimated 222 million women in resource poor countries who would like to avert or time their pregnancies, but lack access to effective contraception. That, in turn could help prevent about  54 million unintended pregnancies. An estimated 26 million abortions, including 16 million under unsafe conditions would  then not take place, and the deaths of 79,000 women and more than a million infants also could be averted. The numbers, spelling out the benefits of improved links to reproductive and sexual health resources go on — in the numbers of children’s deaths averted when pregnancies can be spaced three years apart, in the numbers of women who die from complications related to pregnancy, childbirth or unsafe abortions, in the percentages of HIV infections among the youngest sexually active populations, and in the numbers of women living with HIV seeking to avoid becoming pregnant. All of those numbers, in turn, are ones that would lower incidence of HIV, impact poverty, and improve the sustainability of environmental, health, education and development efforts.

Rep. Yvette ClarkeAll of those numbers also are laid out in H.R. 3206, the Global Sexual and Reproductive Health Act of 2013, introduced by Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) on Sept. 27. Referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee that day, just a few days before the government shut down, the bill has 30 co-sponsors now.

For all of those numbers, the bill is unlikely to become law anytime soon. According to the independent congressional data tracking site  its chances of making its way out of committee are about 2 percent, and its chances of being passed this time around are 0. Those odds are based in part on the bill’s previous fate; Rep. Clarke has introduced it twice before, in the 111th Congress and the 112th. It died in committee both times, and the body’s make-up has not changed in ways that make its success this time more likely. That history, and prognosis don’t set it apart from the majority of bills introduced between 2011 and 2013 in Congress, where, according to GovTrack, only 11% of bills made it past committee and only about 3% were enacted in those years. And in any case that doesn’t make it all for naught, according to Jamila Taylor of Ipas, a global nonprofit that supports the bill.

“Due to the political landscape on Capitol Hill, we know the chances of a bill like this advancing through the U.S. Congress are slim,” Taylor said. The bill, she added, “is intended to be a model for a comprehensive approach to addressing critical reproductive health concerns, including support for safe abortion services through U.S. Foreign Assistance.

“We hope,” Taylor continued, “the bill can be used to educate policymakers about the importance of packaging reproductive health services in a way that meets the needs of women and girls throughout the lifespan.”

For all of that, stay tuned. The bill had 49 co-sponsors last time, and the current number of co-sponsors could go up, as the government goes back to business.

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