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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 31, 1997
                     Statement by the President on 
             USAID Funds for International Family Planning

In the next few weeks, Congress will face an important vote about the United States' support for voluntary family planning in developing countries.

The funds to continue our support have already been approved, as part of our Fiscal Year '97 budget. At issue is whether the money will be released on March 1, or whether it will be further delayed by four months, until July.

It is my determination that a delay will cause serious, irreversible and avoidable harm. In the balance are the lives and well-being of many thousands of women and children and American credibility as the leader in family planning programs around the world.

Opponents of this funding have tried to mischaracterize this upcoming vote and the work of United States Agency for International Development in family planning. So, let me be clear: The United States provides family planning support where it is wanted and needed. We are prohibited by law from ever funding abortion -- and we abide faithfully by that law. Indeed, the work we have funded in developing countries has been supportive of families, helping them to flourish. It has improved women's health and women's station in life. It has allowed generations of children to grow and be educated in safer and healthier environments. It has been instrumental in helping to prevent the spread of disease, including AIDS. And, make no mistake: It has prevented untold numbers of abortions and maternal deaths. This much is clear: In preventing abortions, maternal and child deaths, family planning has been proven effective.

If we delay support for family planning by even four months, denying safe and effective contraception to couples who depend on these programs, we will see a rise in unintended pregnancies and maternal deaths and a tragic recourse to unsafe and unsanitary methods to terminate those pregnancies.

I want to emphasize this vote should have nothing to do with partisan politics. In fact, right now, a bipartisan group of legislators in the House and the Senate are hard at work to pass this bill for the timely release of funds. And for a generation, through Administrations led by both parties, the United States has led the world in family planning programs. Studies show that our efforts, as part of an international strategy, have prevented more than 500 million unintended pregnancies.

Rapid population growth undermines economic and social development in poor countries. With our support for family planning, the scarce resources in developing countries -- from infrastructure and environment to nutrition and education -- can be better used to allow progress for their people.

Maintaining and building on this progress depends on our being consistent in our actions and adhering to our values.

Cooperative international efforts to address rapid population growth serve American foreign policy interests in protecting the earth's environment, promoting human rights and improving basic standards of health. It enhances the social, economic and political status of women. It ensures global economic progress and strong markets for United States exports. It encourages international stability and it reduces pressures that lead to refugee flows and migration.

I appeal to the Members of Congress to examine the consequences of a delay, to weigh those against the benefits of fulfilling an urgent and continuing American commitment, and to vote for the March 1, 1997, unconditional release of these voluntary international family planning funds.

If Congress fails to take this simple action, we risk a cost to humanity that we will bear well into the next century.

Surely, we agree that we must do all we can to prevent unintended pregnancies and abortions. With passage of this bill, we can do that. The decision is now in the hands of the Congress.