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President’s Budget Falls Short on Campaign Promises: American people want results not rhetoric

May 7, 2009

Washington DC – Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, issued a statement today on President Obama’s newly released budget.

“In these tough economic times, more people than ever are paying attention to how the US government plans to spend money over the coming period. As we start the process of deciding how our tax dollars are redistributed, we will work with the administration and Congress towards ensuring that government programs encompass the best of the Catholic social justice tradition that defines the work of Catholics for Choice.

“Overall, we are encouraged by many of the president’s proposals. However, we also have some very serious concerns that the budget doesn’t adequately reflect the priorities that the administration pledged to pursue and that the American people support.

“We applaud the $8.6 billion in FY2010 funding for a global health strategy (a $63 billion commitment over six years), which includes a $46 million increase for international family planning. Despite campaign promises that he would fully fund PEPFAR at $48 billion over five years, the administration’s budget proposal would amount to a dramatic decrease in funding for the program, the keystone presidential program that funds the fight against HIV. If the United States wants to be an international leader on these issues, as President Obama has claimed, we should do the right thing and increase funding for PEPFAR. In fact, this decrease in funding gives the green light to other countries to cut funding also, not the kind of leadership we want to see on this issue. A poll out today showed that two-thirds of the public supports maintaining (39 percent) or increasing (26 percent) US government funding to improve health in developing countries. There is clearly ample support for increased funding in this vital area that means the difference between life and death for so many people around the world. We are pleased that UNFPA, the United Nations’ family planning program that works to improve health care in developing countries, has been funded at $50 million without additional restrictions. We were disappointed that there was not an increase for this vital program.

“There is still much work to be done in fleshing out how the administration plans to support programs that reduce the need for abortion–a key campaign promise. An example of how the president has not yet turned rhetoric into reality is the fact that there has been a tiny increase in spending on Title X family planning programs. Given the current state of the economy, it is vitally important that all women are offered the opportunity to prevent unplanned pregnancies. $317 million is not nearly enough to fund family planning services for the millions of women and families who do not have health insurance or access to reasonably priced and reliable family planning methods. We will be encouraging Congress to increase this level of funding significantly.

“We are very disappointed that the administration chose not to remove the many restrictions on the use of federal funds for providing abortions. This is a lost opportunity as these restrictions have a disproportionate impact on our country’s most vulnerable people, including the many who find themselves out of work and without insurance who must now turn to federal programs for health care.

“We are cautiously optimistic that the budget would end funding for abstinence-only-until-married sexuality education programs. However, we are concerned that an undefined teen pregnancy initiative has taken its place. Teens are not the only ones who experience unplanned pregnancies (in fact, women aged 20-24 are more likely to become pregnant than teenagers) and all sexually active people are at some stage in their lives at risk for sexually transmitted infections. We do, however, support the decision to move towards more evidence-based funding. We need to be sure that the end result will be a comprehensive approach to sexuality education–which includes education about reducing the need for abortion as well as sexually transmitted infections–and that it provides services to all, whatever age they are.

“We are in the early days of a new administration, and we are experiencing one of the steepest economic downturns in living memory. However, we cannot let up in ensuring that sufficient funding is provided for reducing the need for abortion and ensuring that all are protected from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Now more than ever we need to heighten the public’s awareness about how the administration is proceeding, paying particular attention to results rather than rhetoric.”