In a scathing rebuke of the president's decision to ban federal overseas
abortion funding, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called on
George W. Bush yesterday to reconsider a "crazy" policy that she said could
cost the lives of poor women and children in developing nations.
"President Bush thinks it's wrong for people overseas to even discuss
(abortion)," Albright said in San Francisco during one of her first major
speeches since the end of the Clinton administration. "That's crazy. And women
will die because of it."
Albright's remarks drew a standing ovation from the 1,100 people attending
the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League's annual "Power of
Choice" luncheon at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, which raised $500,
000 for pro-choice political efforts.
The focus of Albright's remarks was one of Bush's first acts as president:
a decision to overturn a Clinton directive and reinstate a ban on federal
funds for international family planning organizations that perform abortions
and offer abortion counseling.
In his executive order, Bush wrote: "It is my conviction that taxpayer
funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or actively promote
abortion either here or abroad."
A White House spokesman yesterday politely deflected Albright's criticism,
saying the president has indicated the family planning decision is an area
"where good people tend to disagree." But the spokesman, Ken Lisaius,
emphasized the president supports U.S. aid to groups that provide family
planning services other than abortion.
Bush's decision returned the administration to a policy imposed in 1984 by
former President Ronald Reagan that barred international groups who receive U.
S. aid from using their own money on abortion or abortion counseling. The
policy was in place until Clinton reversed it in 1993.
The former secretary of state countered yesterday that Bush's decision was
both "fundamentally undemocratic" and "perpetuated a falsehood."
"U.S. funds are not -- and I say again loudly, are not -- used to perform
or promote abortion overseas," she told the crowd. "Instead, they provide
family planning services that reduce the number of abortions . . . and save
Albright said 600,000 poor women die in developing countries every year
from health complications that could have been prevented through access to
She said 11 million children also die each year before age 5, "many (who)
could be saved if the births were spaced further apart," or if their mothers
could better plan for children in their healthiest child-bearing years.
"Still, (opponents) call their philosophy pro-life," she said. "That's not
irony: that's tragedy."
The former secretary of state said abortion counseling is part of the
family planning services offered by most of the international agencies. She
called on Bush to reconsider his policy, saying "maybe he will realize that by
prohibiting recipients of U.S. aid from using their own money to provide
information about abortion, he has justified an agonizing choice."
"They can stop helping people who desperately need their help," she said,
"or they can give up their right to free speech and to provide vital
information for patients."
Lisaius, the White House spokesman, said Bush is committed to $425 million
in funding provided for in the 2001 fiscal year because "he knows one of the
best ways to prevent abortion is by providing quality voluntary family
But under the policy an organization won't receive the U.S. aid if its
family planning services include discussion about or the option of abortion.
Still, the policy does not "restrict organizations from treating injuries
or illness caused by legal or illegal abortion -- for example, post-abortion
care," he said.
Bush's policy "recognizes our country's long history of providing
international health care services -- including voluntary family planning to
couples around the world who want to make free and responsible decisions about
the number and spacing of their children," Lisaius said.
Albright drew applause from her San Francisco audience yesterday when she
urged Americans who care about the rights and health of women worldwide to
"organize and mobilize" to pressure Bush for change.
"President Bush's decision . . . was a blow," Albright said. "But the right
response is not to throw up our hands, but rather to roll up our sleeves."
Even Republican women at the event said Bush's decision had provoked
"I'm a strong Bush supporter, and I'm very, very opposed to what he did,"
said Ann Bullwinkel of Menlo Park, one of a table of pro-choice GOP women who
belong to the WISH List, a national organization supporting pro-choice
candidates. "I want to see the decision changed."
With such policies, "I don't think (Bush) is reaching out to pro-choice
Republican women," said Carol Mayer Marshall, another WISH list supporter.
"He's catering to the right wing . . . and we've got to take back our party."
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle