Monday, December 05, 2005

Playing Politics with Foreign Policy

Responding to its base of the so-called religious right, more properly known as the non-religious wrong, the Bush administration in 2001 announced that no foreign funding would go to nongovernmental and multilateral organizations that consider safe abortion to be an acceptable option. Amazingly enough, this policy applies even if the organizations do not offer abortion services themselves.

This Global Gag Rule not only denies funding to organizations that provide safe abortion but also to those that advocate for changes in abortion law in their own countries or simply provide information about safe abortion services. The rule has stifled free speech and public debate on abortion-related issues and more importantly has resulted in numerous family planning organizations losing vital funds and supplies.

I this were not bad enough, the global gag rule has been applied to AIDS funding in at least one country – Kenya, where abortion is illegal and complications from unsafe abortions are a leading killer of married woman. Despite President Bush previously promising that US AIDS funding would not be affected by this gag rule, in November USAID announced that $193 million in grants would be available to HIV/AID projects in Kenya only if prospective grantees and all partners will abide by the gag rule regarding safe-abortion programs. Once again this administration says one thing and does another.

Family planning and maternal and child health programs are the first responders for women and girls in the global AIDS epidemic and are too important to be denied funding because of domestic politics. The US government should not deny desperately-needed funding to reproductive health organizations that use non-US funding to provide comprehensive counseling and services. The gag rule has undermined reproductive health services in developing countries around the world and now is being applied to urgently-needed efforts to restrain the HIV-AIDS pandemic in countries where it claims thousands of lives including children every month.

The Global Gag Rule is one more contributor to the poor global image of the US. Moreover, it is the result of a single domestic constituency which has shaped a foreign that undermines the clear national interest and weakens programs that contribute to mutual well-being around the world. This from an administration which claims it is family oriented and compassionate.

David M. Goldberg