US blocks WHO

Thu Apr. 21, 2005 12:51 PM PDT

Apparently, the Bush administration is trying to throw a wrench in the World Health Organization's (WHO) plan to put two abortion pills on an essential medicines list. According to the Guardian, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been lobbying the Director General's office at the WHO to prevent the go-ahead. The pills are aimed at preventing a portion of the 18.5 million unsafe abortions that are carried out every year in developing countries, especially those where abortion is legal but doctors currently must resort to invasive surgery.

The WHO committee unanimously recommended that the pills go on the "essentials" list, but nevertheless, there has been a long, uncustomary delay in approval from the Director General, which seems to be stalling. A memo at the end of March was sent back to the WHO committee, "asking if they had considered a warning that mifepristone [i.e., one of the abortion pills] can, in rare cases, carry a risk of serious bacterial infections, sepsis, and bleeding." To which the committee, embarrassingly enough, had to remind the director general's office that they, since its their job, had indeed considered the side effects, but that the risks of infection and bleeding from the abortion-related surgery currently being carried out in poor countries are far higher than those of the pill. Which is why they approved it in the first place.

It's not the first time the Bush administration has tried to foist its stance on abortion onto the rest of the world. Back in early March, the U.S. was the only thing standing in the way of ratifying the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) simply because the administration feared that the language affording women reproductive rights could be interpreted as a right to abortion. If the administration wants to take on the issue of abortion at home, that's one thing. But opposing an approach to health care that has been shown to prevent saving lives in other countries on "values" grounds is quite another.

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