- As Delivered -

Washington—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement at a full committee hearing on challenges women face in global health:

“This is one of those topics where I think it’s helpful to take a step back and look at the big picture so we can understand why this issue—global women’s health—should be a foreign policy priority.

“We know that when women are able to live fuller, more productive lives, when they have access to education and economic opportunity, when they can be full participants in their communities and societies, it acts like a rising tide. Entire countries become more stable, more open, and more prosperous.

“When women have a seat at the table, we see better results in resolving conflicts and rebuilding after crises. A whole host of foreign policy challenges are more easily overcome when women are involved—when women can live their lives to their full potential.

“And when we dig down, it’s clear that unleashing that potential is directly tied to women’s access to health—health care—particularly family planning. Study after study after study has told us: improving access to contraception improves women’s economic wellbeing. Women who can plan having children on their own timetables are more likely to get an education, to raise their standards of living, to climb out of poverty.

“And this is where so many women hit a roadblock. Only about half of the women in developing countries receive the minimum recommended prenatal care, and that number drops in sub-Saharan Africa. Every year, more than 300,000 women die from complications during childbirth. That’s a shocking statistic, an estimated third of which could be prevented if the women had access to contraception and greater choice over whether or not to become pregnant.

“It’s a human tragedy. And it wipes away all those positive effects that ripple out when women are able to make choices for themselves and can get the health care they need.

“American assistance has traditionally played a major role helping women and girls get better access to health care. In fact, global health makes up the largest single share of civilian aid overseas. Over the years, American-backed assistance for family planning, maternal and child health and nutrition, and PEPFAR have made a real difference around the world.

“Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has threatened to undo a lot of that progress. It has tried again and again to slash America’s investment in family planning and reproductive health.

“The administration has tried to hobble the UN Population Fund, arguably the most important organization in the world for helping women get the care they need.

“And let me focus on this for a moment: UNFPA purchases and distributes contraceptives, facilitates safe childbirth, promotes maternal and reproductive health, works to end female genital mutilation, and assists victims of gender-based violence. In 150 countries around the world—which includes100 where USAID doesn’t operate—in war-torn areas and in the middle of humanitarian disasters, UNFPA is a lifeline for the world’s most vulnerable women and girls. These are people with nowhere else to turn.

“So what has the Trump Administration done with this? The answer, unfortunately, is eliminated American support for it.

“And of course, the administration has reinstated and expanded the Global Gag Rule. This is a policy of—that does I think the opposite of what its supporters say. I’ll leave it to our witnesses to shine a light on just how much damage it does—how it undermines everything we know can be gained when women get a fair shot.

“This policy should be repealed permanently. That’s what the Global HER Act would do, and one of our witnesses this morning is that bill’s author: my friend, good friend and neighbor from New York, whose district borders mine for 30 years, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Appropriations—the first woman to chair that committee—Mrs. Lowey.

“We’ll also hear from another colleague, a member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, the distinguished gentlewoman from Washington, Ms. McMorris-Rodgers.

“Two great witnesses, I look forward to opening statements from our colleagues, pending which I’ll yield to my friend from Texas, our Ranking Member, for any opening comments he may have.”

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