Bush’s “Gag” Gift

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A recent assessment of Republican reproductive policy in developing countries found that the Mexico City policy, known outside the administration as the “global gag rule,” is essentially failing to prevent the spread of AIDS and blatantly ignoring the pressing healthcare needs of women and families in some of the world’s most impoverished nations.

The global gag rule requires any organization or clinic that provides reproductive services to sign an agreement stipulating that abortion will not be mentioned or discussed with patients. A recent study by Population Action International, Ipas, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America discovered just how debilitating that policy is to clinics in developing nations, where the policy sometimes caused the closure of the only available healthcare service within a day’s walk.

To regain funding from U.S. Agency for International Development (US AID), grantees must promise to ban discussing abortion, reports Women’s E-News. The Family Life Movement of Zambia does not support abortion, but lost $30,000 in U.S. aid for informing teens that unwanted and dangerous abortions are a consequence of unwanted pregnancy:

“‘When we counsel, we have to talk about abortion. You can’t do counseling on reproductive health without talking about the whole business,'” [FLM Director Hillary] Fyfe said …’We were told, ‘you talk about abortion, you’re out,’ she said.”

London’s Guardian reports that $430 million from US AID now goes only to organizations that have signed the anti-abortion pledge. US AID is the leading donor of condoms to developing countries, and because the global gag rule cut significant funding from Planned Parenthood International, condoms are not being distributed nearly as widely as they once were. Planned Parenthood International’s refusal to sign the gag rule cost the organization $20 million dollars in annual funding – US AID made up a fifth of its budget. The U.N.’s Integrated Regional Information Network reports that facilities that provided the only heathcare available to the poorest regions Nairobi, Kenya, were forced to close:

“‘This is the real fact of Bush’s compassionate conservatism – a war on the world’s most vulnerable women and children, who bear the brunt of Bush’s obsession with appeasing his domestic political base,’said Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Gloria Feldt. ‘America can and must do better than that.'”

Unfortunately, President Bush’s America isn’t. In addition to cutting funding that leads to clinics’ closure, critics charge that the administration is “blackballing” abortion advocates by refusing to offer any funding — even to much needed programs. The study discovered that most of the organizations that refused to sign the gag rule weren’t able to get money for HIV prevention and awareness programs, funds that are entirely unrelated to abortion advocacy, Women’s E News reports:

“‘In practice, that is what is happening. They are getting blackballed,’ said Wendy Turnbull, legislative policy analyst with Population Action International and one of the authors of the report.

A state department official said it was unclear how USAID determined which programs qualified for HIV/AIDS funds and which were disqualified as family planning programs not in compliance with the Mexico City policy.”

The study finds that the “global” in gag rule is aptly placed. The policy, which was instituted by the Reagan administration, thrown out by Clinton, and revamped within George W.’s first week, has effected the health and safety of women from Eastern Europe to Southern Africa. In Romania, women skeptical of Soviet contraceptive policies receive an average of 2.2 abortions, but family planning organizations trying to reach out to patients of abortion providers risk losing their funding. In Ethiopia, one in seven women die from pregnancy-related complications — but major Ethiopian clinics have been forced to close their doors or cut staff due to their dependency on Planned Parenthood funding. Planned Parenthood of America hopes the study’s findings don’t fall on deaf ears, and note that it’s the President’s policy, not American preference, that is the main cause of women’s suffering in impoverished countries. 70 percent of American voters support a broader interpretation of family planning programs in developing countries, Planned Parenthood of America writes. But the President was never one to be too concerned with the opinion of the majority of U.S. voters anyway:

“When President Bush imposed the global gag rule hours after his inauguration in 2001, he said, ‘American taxpayers don’t want their money going to pay for abortions in developing countries.’

Perhaps what the president meant to say was, ‘Americans are willing to risk the lives of millions of women and children to ensure they are never able to have a safe abortion.’ Or that ‘Americans don’t believe that we should be paying for poor women in poor countries to have birth control or better health care.'”

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