In the last five years, I have interviewed hundreds of women in
developing countries regarding their access to reproductive health care.
To the best of my knowledge, President Bush has not.
I would expect to be in disagreement with his administration's often
demonstrably unscientific approach to family planning. However,
President Bush's claim this week that giving poor women access to
contraceptives promotes abortion defies logic. In a policy statement
released by the office of the president on June 19
the administration has declared the president's
intent to veto a bill authorizing foreign aid for family planning
programs, because, according to the statement, the bill would be
contrary to the administration's Mexico City Policy (also known
colloquially as the "Global Gag Rule").
The administration's analysis of this issue is not only fundamentally
flawed, it is also dangerous. Here's why. The Global Gag Rule
restricts U.S. foreign aid to non-U.S. based organizations that (with
non-U.S. funds) provide legal voluntary abortion services or advocate
for less restrictive abortion laws within their country.
The Global Gag Rule is not about whether U.S. foreign aid is used to
fund legal abortion services directly -- such funding has been illegal
since 1973. That is, the Global Gag Rule expressly denies funding to
organizations who even with their own alternative funding refuse to be
silent on the devastating consequences of the criminalization of
abortion on the lives of women or who simply provide reproductive
health services that are fully legal.
A brief history
of the Global Gag Rule is that it was
first enacted by the Reagan administration; was repealed by the Clinton
administration in 1993; was reintroduced by Congress in the foreign aid
appropriations act (with a waiver system) in 2000, and was fully
reinstated by President Bush as one of his first acts of government in
The local health providing organizations de-funded by the Global Gag
Rule (those who refuse to be "gagged") often give services spanning the
full spectrum of family planning: information on contraceptive methods,
youth counseling to postpone sexual initiation and prevent adolescent
pregnancies, as well as the provision of condoms, diaphragms, and
Rather than preventing abortion, the real effect of the Global Gag Rule
has therefore been a drop in access to reproductive health services,
information, and modern contraceptive methods. These are all services
primarily to women that have been proven to bring down the number of
crisis pregnancies, and therefore abortions.
In short, the Global Gag Rule is bad foreign policy and bad for women.
The foreign aid bill President Bush is now threatening to veto contains
a provision stating that organizations who apply for U.S. foreign aid
cannot be denied funding specifically destined for the provision of
contraceptives solely on the basis of the Global Gag Rule.
With this provision, Congress seems to be saying that improving access
to contraceptives might give poor women a better chance to avoid
using-often unsafe-abortion as their only means of family planning.
With his promised veto, President Bush is saying the opposite: that
contraceptives promote abortion.
President Bush should explain this twisted logic to the many women and
adolescents who -- as a result of this administration's sustained war on
family planning and scientifically based health information -- will face
unsafe abortion, lasting health consequences from early pregnancies, and
even possible death. President Bush would certainly benefit from
contact with the millions of people his policies affect.