Pandering to Abortion Foes Cripples Global AIDS Effort
Published on Friday, February 9, 2001 in the Los Angeles Times
Pandering to Abortion Foes Cripples Global AIDS Effort
by Salih Booker
 
In light of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa, what President Bush did as soon as he got to the White House was criminal: He imposed the contentious abortion politics of one narrow domestic constituency upon millions of people in the world's poor countries. Bush's decision to restrict money for international family planning will only increase unsafe procedures and the spread of AIDS in poor countries. It is tantamount to imposing a death sentence.

Adding irony here is the fact that restricting money for international family planning will not reduce abortions because no federal funding supports them anyway. The true purpose of the act is to advance the agenda of the anti-choice fundamentalists who are among Bush's strongest supporters. The consequences of this measure for Africa, Latin America and Asia, however, are dire.

The "global gag rule," as this measure is known, was first imposed by Ronald Reagan in 1984, but reversed by Bill Clinton in 1993. It denies federal funding to international organizations that provide family planning services if they also provide reproductive health education and abortion services using money from other sources.

Groups providing important health care assistance in developing countries will lose funding. Projects providing contraceptives will be cut, contributing to a greater demand for abortions. More unsafe abortions will occur as happened the last time this policy was enforced. And, with the decrease in the full range of family planning services, there will be an increase in HIV/AIDS infections.

In light of the unprecedented suffering and social destruction caused by the AIDS pandemic, especially in Africa, Bush's action is anti-African in the extreme. Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) said Bush was declaring war on the reproductive health of the world's poorest women. She, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and others have pledged to reverse Bush's decision.

This callous policy approach to international public health care threatens the very cooperation between rich and poor nations and organizations that desperately needs strengthening if we are to address the major health challenges of the 21st century, especially AIDS. The International Planned Parenthood Federation, which is not directly involved in abortion services, currently receives $5 million a year from Washington and is likely to be among those hardest hit by this measure. The federation lost a quarter of its funding last time the gag rule was imposed, forcing it to cancel campaigns promoting safe sex and contraception. Its programs in Asia and Africa likely will be hit worse this time.

It is obvious that the president was emboldened to make this decision because the people who will become its casualties are poor people of color. That is the price to pay for rewarding a small band of zealots. Within days, Bush expanded the assault on global public health by initiating a review of a Clinton executive order that supports African countries' rights to import or produce cheaper generic versions of HIV/AIDS medications still under U.S. patent. A reversal of this order would be the equivalent of imposing the death penalty on 32.5 million people living with HIV in the developing world.

If they are to have any hope of survival it will depend on an increase in the reach and quality of public health care delivery systems in their countries and the availability of affordable and safe anti-retroviral drugs. It seems Bush would deny them that hope. Taken together these first steps of the Bush administration lay bare what promise to be major determinants of U.S. policy on global issues under Republican rule: appeasement of the party's hard-line ideologues and the promotion of corporate America's enormous profits over human progress. This is quite different from what the former Texas governor promised during the campaign. In the second televised presidential debate, Bush answered a question on whether the people of the world should fear the U.S. by saying, "It really depends upon how our nation conducts itself in foreign policy. If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us. . . . If we're a humble nation, but strong, they'll respect us."

There is no humility in this ideologically driven attempt to deny millions of people a right for which American women have a constitutional protection, the right to choose. And there is no national strength expressed in the administration's attack on a tiny portion of our nation's wealth being used for global public health. There is only cowardice and arrogance in this first act by our new president.

It makes one want to ask, "Who elected him president anyway?"

Salih Booker is executive director of the Africa Fund, the American Committee on Africa in New York and the Africa Policy Information Center in Washington. the three nonprofit organizations are entering a merger. Web Site: www.africapolicy.org

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times

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