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Bush Decision Threatens International Family Planning: Gag Rule Will Hit Programs that Reduce Unplanned Pregnancies and Abortion

By January 23, 2001News

– Release date: 23 January 2001

The announcement today that President George W. Bush will reinstate the Mexico City Policy, known as the "global gag rule" for the restrictions it places on the way organizations outside the US use their own money, is an affront to the principle of free speech and will ultimately hurt those projects that, through providing contraception, reduce the demand for abortions worldwide.

"To place restrictions on family planning choices disempowers women and men and undermines their efforts to extricate themselves from poverty," said Ingar Brueggemann, the Director General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). "The Mexico City policy has cost many lives and actually increased to a large degree the number of unintended pregnancies and illegal, unsafe abortions causing death and disability."

The return of the gag rule, which has been touted by the Bush Administration as a means to keep US taxpayer money from supporting abortions abroad, will not actually affect abortion-related activities, as these activities have not been eligible for US funds for decades. What will suffer are the programs that provide women, men and young people with the information and services they need to reduce the incidence of unplanned pregnancies and, consequently, the demand for abortions. In Russia, for instance, the Minister for Health reported in August 2000 that, thanks to the work of IPPF and the Russian Family Planning Association, there has been a noticeable decline in the number of abortions.

The IPPF, working through more than 150 autonomous, national family planning associations and in at least 182 countries worldwide, is one of the largest providers of sexual and reproductive health services in the world. In 2000, USAID obligated $5 million in funding to the IPPF for projects that aim to increase access to family planning and other reproductive health services and improve the sustainability of organizations that provide these services, including:

  • Drop-in centers in Lima, Peru, that offer counseling, educational sessions, informational materials and referrals to more than 5,000 young people each month.
  • A Tirana youth center, set up by the Albanian Family Planning Association, that provides condoms, emergency contraception, medical referrals and a telephone hotline, as well as career advice, skills training and entertainment.
  • A program in Moldova to promote the use of condoms as a way of preventing sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, as well as unplanned pregnancies.
  • The "Be-Wise" youth center in Ghana includes a reproductive health clinic and an Internet center. The center is a gathering point for youth and a base for outreach activities like the 'Big Sister' program, which works on girls' self-esteem, as well as their sexual and reproductive health.

"Our programmes, in more than 180 countries, cover a wide spectrum of reproductive health issues, but they have a common aim: to significantly reduce the sum of human misery by promoting the highest possible level of sexual and reproductive health," said Director General Brueggemann. "It is a principal position of IPPF policy that abortion is not a method of family planning.

The IPPF is committed to reducing the numbers of abortions worldwide by ensuring that contraception is widely and safely available. Education and information are critical to this work. People and organizations that provide them should not be gagged."