In the last five years, I have interviewed hundreds of women in developing countries regarding their access to reproductive health care. To the best of my knowledge, President Bush has not.
I would expect to be in disagreement with his administration's often demonstrably unscientific approach to family planning. However, President Bush's claim this week that giving poor women access to contraceptives promotes abortion defies logic. In a policy statement released by the office of the president on June 19 the administration has declared the president's intent to veto a bill authorizing foreign aid for family planning programs, because, according to the statement, the bill would be contrary to the administration's Mexico City Policy (also known colloquially as the "Global Gag Rule").
The administration's analysis of this issue is not only fundamentally flawed, it is also dangerous. Here's why. The Global Gag Rule restricts U.S. foreign aid to non-U.S. based organizations that (with non-U.S. funds) provide legal voluntary abortion services or advocate for less restrictive abortion laws within their country.
The Global Gag Rule is not about whether U.S. foreign aid is used to fund legal abortion services directly -- such funding has been illegal since 1973. That is, the Global Gag Rule expressly denies funding to organizations who even with their own alternative funding refuse to be silent on the devastating consequences of the criminalization of abortion on the lives of women or who simply provide reproductive health services that are fully legal.
A brief history of the Global Gag Rule is that it was first enacted by the Reagan administration; was repealed by the Clinton administration in 1993; was reintroduced by Congress in the foreign aid appropriations act (with a waiver system) in 2000, and was fully reinstated by President Bush as one of his first acts of government in January 2001.
The local health providing organizations de-funded by the Global Gag Rule (those who refuse to be "gagged") often give services spanning the full spectrum of family planning: information on contraceptive methods, youth counseling to postpone sexual initiation and prevent adolescent pregnancies, as well as the provision of condoms, diaphragms, and hormonal contraception.
Rather than preventing abortion, the real effect of the Global Gag Rule has therefore been a drop in access to reproductive health services, information, and modern contraceptive methods. These are all services primarily to women that have been proven to bring down the number of crisis pregnancies, and therefore abortions.
In short, the Global Gag Rule is bad foreign policy and bad for women.
The foreign aid bill President Bush is now threatening to veto contains a provision stating that organizations who apply for U.S. foreign aid cannot be denied funding specifically destined for the provision of contraceptives solely on the basis of the Global Gag Rule.
With this provision, Congress seems to be saying that improving access to contraceptives might give poor women a better chance to avoid using-often unsafe-abortion as their only means of family planning.
With his promised veto, President Bush is saying the opposite: that contraceptives promote abortion.
President Bush should explain this twisted logic to the many women and adolescents who -- as a result of this administration's sustained war on family planning and scientifically based health information -- will face unsafe abortion, lasting health consequences from early pregnancies, and even possible death. President Bush would certainly benefit from contact with the millions of people his policies affect.