London Family Planning Summit: The Cracks Are Showing

By | July 13, 2017
melinda-gates- photo credit: dfid

Melinda Gates, speaking at the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning

NEW YORK, July 14 (C-Fam) With its ambitious agenda off target and its largest funding source threatening to pull out, the international family planning partnership (FP2020) tried hard to appear positive at its summit in London this week.

The vision of FP2020, singularly focused on family planning, faces increased pressure from stakeholders insisting on including abortion and other controversial issues in the agenda.

At the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning, Melinda Gates and UK Prime Minister David Cameron hosted about 1,300 attendees, — about twice as many as this week’s follow-up summit— and set a goal to add 120 million women and girls as users of modern contraceptives.

At the halfway point, the initiative is off track to meet its goals of both funding and adding new contraceptive users. President Trump’s reinstated Mexico City Policy and defunding of the United Nations Population Fund shocked the family planning community, since the U.S. was the single largest bilateral family planning donor.

Asked about the biggest challenge in reaching new users, family planning advocate and Johns Hopkins professor, Duff Gillespie, was unequivocal: “[i]n a word, the biggest obstacle to achieving FP2020’s goal is money.”  However, the funding gap of $437 million he cited “between current spending and needs” refers to an estimate cost of commodities, assuming the 120 million additional women intended to use them.  Data does not support that such a demand exists. Only about 5% of women with a purported “unmet need” for family planning cannot access or afford it.  Additionally, many existing users discontinue their methods, referred to at the summit as the “leaking bucket” problem.

Anticipating opposition from conservative and faith-based groups, the original London summit kept its focus narrowly on family planning, avoiding abortion, and the broader controversy around the concept of “sexual and reproductive health and rights.” When the pushback came, it was from feminist groups opposing the exclusion of their broader agenda.

Prior to the 2017 summit, a Devex article characterized the U.S. and abortion as the “two elephants in the room.” Jonathan Rucks, head of advocacy for Population Action International, warned that “sweeping [abortion] under the rug” risks “validating” the Trump administration’s stance against it.

In the Telegraph, the head of a chain of British abortion clinics offered a blistering rebuttal of a major family planning talking point. “Claims that contraceptive services can prevent abortion are a convenient lie peddled by wishful thinkers,” wrote Ann Furedi, who then personally criticized Melinda Gates’ posture of “no controversy” concerning abortion.

Meanwhile, at the summit, the “elephant” of abortion was in full stampede: attendees were led in reciting the preamble of the “She Decides” campaign’s manifesto, the body of which explicitly promotes abortion. The founder of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation addressed the importance of public-private partnerships in tackling “taboo subjects” and committed to funding sex education (“we’re calling it life skills”) and “safe abortion.”  The newly elected WHO chief committed to “championing” SRHR. Several European countries’ representatives promoted abortion and the “She Decides” campaign, which was launched in direct opposition to President Trump’s Mexico City Policy.

It remains to be seen: whether FP2020 can achieve its family planning targets in the absence of sufficient demand, and whether after providing such a platform for abortion advocacy, the initiative will give up its claim to be silent on the issue.