Gag Rule stops AIDS funding
THE BUSH administration slapped a gag rule on overseas reproductive health
clinics as its first official act in 2001. Now an analysis of four countries in Africa and
Eastern Europe describes the rule's effect on the lives of individual women.
The report, by a consortium of nonprofit organizations including Planned
Parenthood, tells a shameful story of ideology driving poor, desperate women
toward illness and death. In Kenya, five women's health clinics were closed
and staffing cut by 30 percent because the clinic directors could not comply
with the gag rule prohibitions. These clinics provided contraception but also
prenatal and well-baby care. Losing these services can be fatal in a country
where fewer than half the births are attended by a trained midwife.
In Zambia, one of the poorest countries in the world, women have an average of
six children, and a third of the female population is pregnant by age 17.
Thanks to the gag rule, peer education programs aimed at young people have
been severely scaled back.
In Ethiopia, where people in some areas must walk
two days to reach a highway, the rule has interfered with outreach programs
that provide health care to otherwise forgotten communities. Voluntary AIDS
counseling, testing, and prevention programs have been decimated. Life
expectancy in Ethiopia, according to the United Nations, is 45 years.
In Romania, where abortion is tragically common, family planning counselors
accepting US funds cannot reach women when they need it most -- immediately
after having an abortion. Health workers are not allowed to lobby for safer
abortion techniques or equipment. A successful program funded jointly by
Planned Parenthood and US AID designed precisely to help women avoid abortion
can no longer provide condoms to women at clinics where abortions are
Supporters of the gag rule think they are helping to reduce abortions
worldwide. But US foreign aid dollars are already barred from funding
abortions, even in countries where the procedure is legal. The gag rule goes
further by restricting US funds from health clinics that so much as inform
their patients about the option of legal abortion or who work to change their
country's laws. The rule is so strict that foreign aid cannot be used to fund
AIDS programs, malaria treatment, screenings for cervical cancer, or prenatal
care at clinics that also provide abortion services or counseling.
Throughout the world, progress is being made toward the emancipation of
women through better education, economic development, and legal rights. The
Bush administration's policies, embodied in the global gag rule, condemn women
to a prison of poverty, ignorance, and ill health.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.