Advocating for International Family Planning
By Laura Britton (firstname.lastname@example.org / @LauraBritton919), pictured above
Laura is a third year PhD student at the School of Nursing, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Last month, I attended an advocacy training in Washington, DC organized by Population Connection Action Fund, which brought together over 400 students from around the country. Members of my chapter of Nursing Students for Sexual and Reproductive Health were invited to participate because North Carolina is a contentious swing state.
Since I largely focus on domestic reproductive/sexual health, my goal was to learn advocacy skills while deepening my understanding of international family planning, with particular attention on how this healthcare can be understood through a human rights lens and delivered without coercion.
After a weekend of training, we had meetings with staffers from the offices of our representatives – for those of us from North Carolina, that meant our Republican Senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr. We decided to have four volunteers speak for the group, including Destiny Sharpe, a sophomore from North Carolina A&T State University.
We had three asks:
- Allocate 1.2 billion dollars for international family planning.
- Of that, designate 65 million dollars for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
- Support the Global HER Act, a permanent legislative repeal of the Global Gag Rule (S. 210/H.R. 671).
Tillis and Burr have both supported abortion restrictions in the past, so I anticipated opposition. However, I was surprised by how staffers in both offices were misinformed on the issue. Staffers thought that the Global Gag Rule prevented federal funding for abortions internationally (it doesn’t) and were concerned that the Global HER Act would permit federal funding for abortions internationally (it won’t).* Learn more here.
I discovered that lobbying draws on a core nursing skill – providing education about healthcare. As nurses, we are trained to assess the knowledge levels of our patients and their families, identify their priority concerns, and provide relevant, accurate information about their health conditions and healthcare procedures. We confirm that they understand, and we check to see if our information inspired new questions. In meetings with our representatives’ staffers, a lot of what we did was provide education about the value of international family planning funding and the nature of the Global HER Act.
In lower resource settings, it is estimated that:
- 225 million people want contraception but lack access.
- 74 million unplanned pregnancies occur every year.
- 47,000 people die from unsafe abortions annually.
If the unmet need for family planning were met, 50,000 adult deaths and 500,000 infant deaths could be prevented annually.
We specifically requested $65 million for the UNFPA to distribute contraception, train midwives to provide safe birth care, prevent and treat obstetric fistula, respond to natural disasters and humanitarian crises, and advocate to eliminate the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting, often in settings where the United States is not welcome. I was heartbroken to learn on April 3, 2017 that President Trump eliminated funding to the UNFPA.
Before this lobbying experience, I had not realized the extent to which staffers depend on professional and citizen lobby visits to become informed about the array of issues on which our representatives make policy. In our meeting, I was concerned that the staffers did not scrutinize the source or quality of the information we provided them, and responded with incorrect information that may have been provided to them earlier by other lobbyists that oppose family planning. When I schedule future meetings, I will anticipate misinformation about the issue and have fact-based responses prepared.
I can unequivocally advocate for more international family planning funding. As a nurse, I understand how individuals can protect their health and wellbeing by using contraception to plan pregnancies. Moving forward, I also see the importance of grappling with interrelated questions of economic inequality, environmental justice, racism, and colonialism as we think deeply about what it means to be Americans advocating for the delivery of family planning services in other national and cultural contexts. As nurses, we can draw on our experience with a patient-centered approach to advocate for individuals whose lives will be most affected by these policies.
Talking with staff from my representatives’ offices was easy and interesting. I want to encourage members of Nursing Students for Sexual and Reproductive Health to set up appointments with their members of Congress, especially when a vote about a reproductive justice issue is scheduled. It’s another important way to advocate for the policies that will make the most positive impact in the lives of our patients and communities.
*One of the challenges of lobbying is staying on your talking points and not launching into an explanation of the harms of the Helms Amendment, which does restrict international funding to organizations that provide abortions.