US Foreign Policy on Family Planning Research Paper

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¶ … United States should use its foreign policy to promote family planning in other countries, especially in developing countries in the third world. To answer this question, one must consider all of the following: the purposes of foreign policy; the social, economic, and medical benefits that are advanced by promoting family planning; and the social, economic, and medical problems that may follow from the promotion of family planning. Answering this question also involves a consideration of the history of United States foreign policy as it relates to the promotion of family planning.

When all of these factors are considered, I conclude that the United States should use its foreign policy to promote family planning around the world. Family planning can be an important, if not essential factor in addressing a number of problems that hamper prosperity and freedom, especially in developing countries. If the United States helps people around the world learn how to prevent unwanted pregnancies, it will promote the physical health, economic success, and political independence of individuals everywhere. Because such a result is perfectly consistent with core American values, promoting family planning abroad should be a core aspect of the United States' foreign policy.

Alternative Viewpoints about the Promotion of Family Planning Through Foreign Policy

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In general terms, there are two opposing positions on the question whether the United States should promote family planning through its foreign policy. Setting out these positions establishes a useful framework for the analysis and resolution of this question.

Research Paper on US Foreign Policy on Family Planning Assignment

Those who support a foreign policy that promotes family planning believe that effective family planning helps prevent a number of social problems that can cause profound suffering. Unwanted pregnancies cause overpopulation, and overpopulation causes social unrest, increased economic inequality, and degradation of the environment. In addition, unwanted pregnancies are associated with a variety of public health problems, especially for women and young children. If the United States government promotes sound decisions about family planning in other countries, all of these social problems can be reduced or eliminated. Ameliorating these problems serves American interests by protecting the individual human rights of people everywhere and by preventing the kind of social, political and economic upheaval that leads to violence and instability around the world.

Opposition to the use of U.S. foreign policy to promote family planning arises primarily from a concern with discouraging abortion. For many people, the protection of human life is the paramount value, above any other consideration of political or human rights. From his perspective, if a society deprives its members of the right to life, it cannot effectively protect any of the other rights that its members have. These people are concerned that any program or policy aimed at preventing unwanted pregnancies will lead to the promotion of abortion. (Wilson). Although they do not oppose providing education about contraception or other methods of family planning besides abortion, their devotion to the right to life is so strong that their opposition to abortion trumps every other consideration and negates any other benefit that might come from promoting family planning.

Historical Development of United States Foreign Policy on Family Planning

Evolving Attitudes Towards Family Planning in the United States

To a great extent, a nation's foreign policy is merely a reflection of the values and principles that animate its domestic politics. (Clinton). Understanding the emergence of the two viewpoints about family planning and foreign policy depends upon understanding the domestic political debate in the United States about family planning as it has evolved over time, especially during the second half of the twentieth century. The reasons for and against promoting family planning were extensively debated within the United States before there was a debate about whether and how the United States should promote family planning abroad.

Until the 1960s, there was no coherent national policy regarding family planning. Any family planning policies were set by state governments, principally by establishing rules about contraception and abortion. Many state governments enacted laws that prohibited any method of "artificial" family planning, such as contraception or abortion. For many Americans, the only way to prevent unwanted pregnancies was to abstain from sex altogether.

During the 1960s, an emerging national consensus recognized that individuals should have the freedom to choose whether and when they would have children and that the government, state or federal, had no authority to intrude on this decision-making. In its decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965), the Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional for a state to outlaw the use of contraception. A few years later, in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), the Supreme Court also held that women had a constitutional right to choose to terminate a pregnancy through abortion and that this right could only be restricted under limited circumstances. These judicial opinions reflected a general national agreement that individuals should have the freedom to make choices about their sexual lives and about the circumstances under which they would have children. It marked a recognition that control over one's reproductive choices is an essential aspect of individual liberty.

Of course, not all Americans shared this viewpoint about the connection between reproductive freedom and individual political freedom. They believed that the government could and should impose limits on reproductive freedom and that such limits were essential to protecting the right to life. (Rehnquist). For these Americans, "family planning" was just a euphemism for promoting abortion. Just as they believed that the government could appropriately outlaw abortion, they also believed that the government should refrain from promoting family planning.

Early Efforts at Promoting Family Planning Abroad

The debate over the proper extent of reproductive freedom influenced the development of American foreign policy about how to promote family planning abroad. Beginning in the 1960s, the federal government undertook extensive efforts to promote family planning for the achievement of several uncontroversial objectives, such as the prevention of poverty, disease, and hardship that often accompanied overpopulation. But foreign policy was drawn into the domestic debate about abortion. Even as the federal government instituted policies promoting family planning, it also restricted such promotion in the name of preventing abortions.

In 1961, Congress enacted the Foreign Assistance Act, which, among other things, authorized research on family planning issues and which provided that family planning information could be given to those who requested it. President Kennedy thought that providing family planning information was important in achieving the objectives of curbing overpopulation and preventing hunger among impoverished people around the world. ("USAID Family Planning Program Timeline: Before 1965-1969").

Throughout the late 1960s, the federal government continued its efforts to promote family planning as a means of fighting poverty and hunger, especially in third world countries. The United States Agency for International Development ("USAID") was given funding to distribute medical supplies, including contraceptives, in third-world countries. The pro-family planning policy was non-partisan, receiving support from both President Johnson and President Nixon. President Nixon described population growth as "one of the most serious challenges to human destiny in the last third of this century." In 1969, during the Nixon Administration, the Office of Population was established within USAID to provide leadership and assistance in developing and conducting family planning activities. ("USAID Family Planning Program Timeline: Before 1965-1969").

In the 1970s, USAID's Office of Population began to conduct surveys around the world to collect information that could be used to monitor and evaluate programs that promoted family planning. The Ford Administration continued the United States' commitment to promoting family planning around the world. During the 1980s, the federal government began to develop its family planning policies to serve other purposes, besides curbing overpopulation. USAID recognized that family planning could promote better public health by reducing the number of health problems that could arise from risky pregnancies. In addition, USAID concluded that better family planning in developing countries could also reduce strains on the environment. ("USAID Family Planning Program Timeline: 1970s-1980s").

The Restriction of Family Planning Programs by Opponents of Abortion

Despite these advances in foreign policy about family planning, there was opposition to the policies under which federal agencies and federal funds were used to counsel families on how to avoid unwanted pregnancies. In 1973, through the efforts of Republican Senator Jesse Helms, Congress enacted the Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. The Helms Amendment prohibited USAID from doing anything to promote or fund abortions. ("USAID Family Planning Program Timeline: 1970s-1980s").

The spirit behind the Helms Amendment also influenced policy during the administration of President Ronald Regan. In 1984, during a United Nations International Conference on Population in Mexico City, President Reagan announced that that he would issue an executive order prohibiting the federal government from providing financial support to any family planning agencies that had any involvement in providing abortions in foreign countries. This order was known as the "Mexico City Policy." It applied to agencies of the United States government, as well as private organizations or agencies from foreign governments that might be receiving aid from the United States government. The Mexico… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "US Foreign Policy on Family Planning" Research Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

US Foreign Policy on Family Planning.  (2010, May 24).  Retrieved September 23, 2020, from

MLA Format

"US Foreign Policy on Family Planning."  24 May 2010.  Web.  23 September 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"US Foreign Policy on Family Planning."  May 24, 2010.  Accessed September 23, 2020.