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Bush's Cruel Trip Backward
Published on Friday, January 26, 2001 in the Boston Globe
Bush's Cruel Trip Backward
by Derrick Z. Jackson
PRESIDENT BUSH hopes that the distance of the victims across the oceans and the distractions of his domestic proposals, such as education, will allow him a tidy conclusion to his cruelty.

Bush says he will take international aid away from family planning clinics that in any way, shape, or whisper tell women where they can get an abortion. To Bush, this is a game of Ping-Pong, and now he has the paddle. Antichoice Ronald Reagan and Bush's father enforced what abortion rights activists have nicknamed the ''gag rule.'' Prochoice Bill Clinton lifted it.

There were quick flickers of flame from prochoice activists, but no general firestorm of disgust. Bush reinstituted the gag rule with the confidence that, aside from Planned Parenthood, Capitol Hill Democrats will not dwell long - or at all - counting the bodies of poverty stricken and sexually trapped women in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Maternal and infant mortality abroad pales next to slapping DNA on Super Bowl footballs to verify their authenticity as memorabilia.

But there will be bodies. In 1995, during Clinton's first term, the United States sent $540 million abroad to family planning clinics. Newt Gingrich's conservative backlash slashed the spending. By early in Clinton's second term, spending was down to $385 million. It has now crept back up to $425 million, barely an increase, considering inflation.

Abroad, the cuts were seen as a violation of the commitment of rich countries to support family planning that came out of the United Nations conference on population in Cairo in 1994. According to the World Health Organization, complications from pregnancy and childbirth kill 600,000 women every year. All but 1 percent of these women come from poor nations. Of the 600,000 deaths, 75,000 are from unsafe, illegal abortions.

Those who know the least bit about family planning know that comprehensive programs ultimately lead to fewer, not more abortions. Bush's ignorance or cynicism is underscored by the fact that one of the growing international success stories is the nation he claims to know about, Mexico. The abortion rate in Mexico City, in an era of significantly more widespread contraceptive counseling services, has fallen from 41 per 1,000 women in the mid-1980s to 25 per 1,000 in the 1990s.

Bush said, ''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.'' His decision will defeat his own political purpose. Family planning research groups, such as the Alan Guttmacher Institute, last year said that if US funding levels were restored to the $540 million, the following would happen:

Nearly 12 million more couples in developing countries would gain access to modern methods of contraception.

There would be 4.3 million fewer unintended pregnancies, 1.5 million fewer unintended births, 500,000 fewer miscarriages, and 2.2 million fewer abortions each year.

There would be 8,000 fewer deaths from unsafe abortions, 7,000 fewer deaths from other causes related to pregnancy and 92,000 fewer deaths of infants.

Bush, in a statement read on Monday to those protesting the 28th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision protecting the right to an abortion, said, ''We share a great goal: to work toward a day when every child is welcomed in life and protected by law.'' To date, he has said nothing about the 15,000 women who may have died each year since Republicans slashed international funding. He says the Declaration of Independence should include the unborn in America, but he has said nothing about the 92,000 dead infants a year abroad who may be a victim of the myopic policies of Republican congressional leadership.

Bush is trading away even more than the lives and rights of pregnant women in developing nations. He is trading away American credibility. Developing countries increasingly link family planning to economic development and increasingly see safe abortions as one of the options, however troubling, that a woman must have. Abortion transcends political and religious boundaries. Egypt, Nigeria, Mexico, Bangladesh, Lithuania, and Turkey all have about the same rate of abortion as the United States.

Before Reagan, the United States was seen as a leader in helping nations provide access to family planning. Clinton had begun reasserting that leadership. Bush is taking us back to a blindness about the bodies. He is taking us back to a time when, as far as abortion goes, we were a developing nation.

© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company


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