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Bush’s ‘War on Women’

By June 22, 2004News

– Release date: 23 June 2004

This Friday, June 25th, President George W. Bush visits Ireland. Since coming to office, the Bush Administration has taken a series of steps to block funding for family-planning programs around the world. It has refused to release Congress-approved funds for the United Nations Population Fund and has cut off funding to the International Planned Parenthood Federation. In doing so the Bush Administration has denied U.S. funds to the two largest and most effective international organizations delivering family planning and reproductive health care to women around the world.

George Bush and the Global Gag Rule

The Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule, was established in 1984 by the Reagan administration. The policy was reversed during the Clinton Administration and then reinstated with the presidency of G.W. Bush and his administration.

Under the Mexico City Policy, family planning funds administered by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) may be transferred only to foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that pledge that they will not use funds from any source for abortion-related activities, including providing information about abortion through counseling or advocacy.

Bush claims that this policy does not have a major impact on the global provision of family planning services or on women's reproductive health although an overwhelming amount of evidence shows otherwise.

The success of the Global Gag Rule in stifling reproductive health care across the globe is not surprising, given that the United States is the dominant donor in international health, providing 30% of all donor funds devoted to international health in 2001.

The U.S. contribution represents 53% of all donor funds for reproductive health; additionally, the United States devotes 8% of its official development assistance to reproductive health, while the average for all donor countries (including the United States) is 3%.

New case study investigations by Population Action International and the Center for Reproductive Rights demonstrate that women's reproductive options are limited and their lives endangered by the restrictions placed on U.S. funded family planning providers worldwide by the Mexico City Policy.

They found that NGOs that had refused to be "gagged" were forced to close clinics, and thousands of women were turned away from former sources of care-not just for contraception, but also for prenatal, postnatal and well-baby care. In addition, in many countries around the world, already-inadequate supplies of contraceptives have become even more scarce because USAID's existing local family planning partner has been cut off from funding.

How has the Global Gag Rule impacted IPPF?

The Gag Rule has cost IPPF – the world's largest voluntary organisation working in sexual and reproductive healthcare of which the IFPA is a member- $12 million. There was also a potential loss of $75 m over 4-8 years which IPPF had expected to receive in joint partnership funding. This loss has resulted in clinics all over the world closing and essential reproductive healthcare being denied or delayed.

One example is Kenya. Family Planning Association of Kenya (FPAK) received an average of $580,000 per year until 2000 as a funding for its clinics. Three clinics have had to close. They were in urban areas servicing poor and marginalised clients. 56,000 clients were denied services, mostly women of reproductive age. To make up the loss FPAK is trying to promote a sustainability programme for its clinics and soliciting funds from non-traditional donors.

What is IPPF's position on abortion?

IPPF has as Objective 4 of its "Vision 2000" Strategic Plan: "to eliminate the high incidence of unsafe abortion, and increase the right of access to safe, legal abortion." IPPF believes that through the provision of sexual and reproductive health care, including family planning, the number of abortions will be reduced. While IPPF does not identify abortion as a method of family planning, it recognises that there are occasions when a woman will feel unable to carry a pregnancy to term. No woman undertakes such a decision lightly. In these circumstances, IPPF believes that a woman should have access to a safe and legal termination.

How much does IPPF spend on abortion related activities?

Only a tiny proportion of IPPF's total funds actually goes on abortion-related activities (ARA). This is a broad category of activity that includes information provision, counselling, advocacy and lobbying as well as clinical services. In 1999 only eight of IPPF's 156 member associations (Barbados, Hong Kong, India, Korea (DPR), Korea (R), Moldova, Mongolia, Thailand and Uganda) carried out ARA. This amounted to 0.05 per cent of IPPF's total income. Amounts were similar for previous years. Most of this money was spent on counselling and post-abortion care.

George Bush and UNFPA Funding

During his first year in office, President George W. Bush released $25 million in congressional approved U.S. funding to UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Secretary of State Colin Powell was a vocal advocate for UNFPA and praised the agency in public testimony to Congress. The unqualified support from the Bush Administration took an abrupt turn in late 2002. After Congress agreed to provide $34 million in funding to UNFPA for Fiscal Year 2002, However, President Bush abruptly put the congressionally approved funding on hold, pending an investigation of charges that UNFPA was directly involved in coercive abortions in China levelled by an anti-family planning organisation, Population Research Institute.

To investigate these charges, the Bush Administration selected a blue-ribbon panel headed by a former Ambassador to travel to China to determine whether or not UNFPA supports or participates in coercive family planning activities in China. After a thorough visit, the team returned and issued a lengthy report stating that they had found no evidence to support such charges and recommended that UNFPA funding be released. Ignoring the recommendations of its hand-picked team, the Bush Administration withheld the $34 million. Another $25 million Congressional appropriation was blocked in 2003. A decision on whether to release the $34 million approved by Congress for 2004 is currently pending.

UNFPA estimates that the $34 million could prevent 2 million unwanted pregnancies per year, nearly 800,000 abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths and 77,000 infant and child deaths.