Republican AIDS Policies Hurt Women!
President Bush stated:
"It's a day, as well, for the United States to remember that we have a duty to do something about this epidemic _ this pandemic," Bush said about the disease, which has killed 25 million people."
While some of the funds from the United States have indeed been helpful to third world nations trying to cope with this medical disaster, many of America's policies have continued to hurt the poorest of the poor in Africa: African women struggling to obtain health care in an environment of extreme poverty and exploitation.
On January 22, 2001, as one of his very first acts as President, George W. Bush reactivated the "Mexico City Policy" that had been suspended by President Clinton with this memorandum:
"January 22, 2001
MEMORANDUM FOR THE ADMINISTRATOR OF THE UNITED STATES AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
SUBJECT: Restoration of the Mexico City Policy
The Mexico City Policy announced by President Reagan in 1984 required nongovernmental organizations to agree as a condition of their receipt of Federal funds that such organizations would neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations. This policy was in effect until it was rescinded on January 22, 1993.
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. It is therefore my belief that the Mexico City Policy should be restored. Accordingly, I hereby rescind the "Memorandum for the Acting Administrator of the Agency for International Development, Subject: AID Family Planning Grants/Mexico City Policy," dated January 22, 1993, and I direct the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development to reinstate in full all of the requirements of the Mexico City Policy in effect on January 19, 1993.
GEORGE W. BUSH
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This policy, also known as the "Global Gag Rule", has been harmful to the very people it purports to protect. As noted in this article:
"The Gag Rule, also known as the "Mexico City Policy," denies U.S. international family planning funding to foreign non-governmental organizations that provide safe abortion services, counseling, referral, or information on safe abortion, advocate for changes in abortion law in their own country, conduct research on the effects of unsafe abortion, or otherwise work on safe abortion issues.*
The Global Gag Rule undermines efforts to prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place by crippling family planning programs that do so much as collect data on unsafe abortion. It also hobbles efforts to address the toll taken on women's lives worldwide by complications of unsafe abortion, sexually transmitted infections, complications of labor and delivery, and other leading causes of illness and death among women worldwide. According to conservative estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 600,000 women worldwide die each year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, of which at least 78,000 women worldwide die as a result of complications of unsafe abortion in a desperate effort to terminate unintended pregnancies. In Kenya, where abortion is illegal, complications of unsafe abortion are a leading killer of married women in their twenties and thirties. The Kenya Family Planning Association lost U.S. funding because it refused to forgo the right to discuss the toll of unsafe abortion on the lives of women in Kenya. "Loss of this funding has severely undermined efforts to reduce unintended pregnancy in Kenya through expansion of voluntary family planning as well as to prevent HIV infections in women," according to Dr. Godwin Mzenge, Executive Director of Family Planning Association of Kenya."
Shame on this President for hurting women in third world nations!It has been up to private individuals and foundations to help fill in the gaping holes left by the backwards American foreign policy, a policy driven by far-right religious extremists that are more concerned with religious dogma than effective public health policy. As noted by the Palm Beach Daily News last month:
"The global gag rule prohibits the distribution of U.S. funds to any clinic that provides abortion services, referral or counseling. By law, no U.S. funds can be used to provide abortions in foreign countries.
"The full range of reproductive health services — their family planning needs, pre- and postnatal care needs — they all get intertwined and sacrificed by this if you will," said luncheon attendee Shirine Mohagheghpourp, acting vice president of international programs for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
"The government can attach strings to the money it gives, that's perfectly fine, but now it's attaching strings to what organizations do with their own money."
As noted, implementation of this policy has limited the utility of funds:
"Proponents of the Bush initiative argue a three-pronged HIV prevention strategy _ emphasizing abstinence, fidelity and condom use _ offers people the best options to protect themselves from AIDS. Democrats in Congress have condemned a provision in the Bush initiative that requires that 33 percent of all money committed to prevention programs be spent to promote abstinence. That restriction, they say, has more to do with conservative ideology than scientifically proven successful programs."
More recently, litigation against a 2003 law which requires nongovernmental organizations to pledge their opposition to prostitution as a condition for receiving funds for international anti-AIDS work has threatened the work to deal with prostitutions who often may serve as unintending vetors for this disease.
"Leading US and international health agencies working to fight HIV/AIDS have recognized the crucial role sex workers play in fighting HIV/AIDS, and found that strategies that approach sex workers in a respectful and nonjudgmental manner are vital to earning the trust of sex workers and engaging them in efforts to stem the spread of HIV. Forcing NGOs to sign an official pledge opposing prostitution will impede such efforts, exacerbate existing stigma, and perpetuate discrimination against sex workers, driving them further underground and away from existing HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment services."
This is not just theoretical. As noted in this case:
"The brief was filed in support of USAID v. DKT International. DKT International, a US-based NGO, was denied federal funding when it refused to adopt the policy because it would hamper its HIV/AIDS programs worldwide, including in countries with serious HIV/AIDS epidemics like Ethiopia, India, Brazil and Vietnam. On May 18, a federal court ruled that the pledge requirement violated fundamental free speech rights guaranteed by the US Constitution."
This past month, President Bush continued to flaunt his right-wing fundamentalist ideology, at the expense of women, with the appointment of Dr. Eric Keroack, an Obstetrician-Gynecologist, to direct fiderally funded planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services. Keroack headed "A Woman's Concern", an organization, which according to the Washington Post:
"A Woman's Concern is persuaded that the crass commercialization and distribution of birth control is demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality and adverse to human health and happiness," the group's Web site says."
But some religious Conservatives are angered by the little that the Global AIDS fund is even able to accomplish with all of the strings attached by this Administration.
"LAKE FOREST, Calif. -- Some leading Christian conservatives, angry over the Global Fund to Fight AIDS's promotion of condoms and its perceived lack of support for faith-based programs, are pushing Congress to cut US support for the AIDS initiative, which was initiated by President Bush in a Rose Garden ceremony five years ago with a $200 million commitment."
So where does it all stop? When can this nation once again address medical problems from a public health perspective? Are we to slide back into the dark ages and assign God's punishment against "evil" as the explanation of disease? Are we to interfere with the public health assessment that condom usage prevents disease. That we may be unable to impose our Puritanical views on abstinence upon a third world African nation without hurting innocent women and children?
Yes Mr. President, the time has arrived to do something about AIDS, a scourge facing our generation on every continent. But we need a President who is willing to use every contemporary method of fighting disease, and not just endorsing a program acceptable to the most religiously conservative supporters!
The time for change in America is now! We have a new Congress and we need a new direction from the White House. We cannot just mouth the words about curing AIDS while interfering with the delivery of health care to those women and children most at risk!
Senator Kerry understands this and is committed to delivering healthcare to women in need; not bogging down our aid with puritanical restrictions that interfere with success and deny science its rightful place in Medicine.