Monday, October 20, 2008

Reagan and Bush on abortion

Did Reagan and Bush do anything to prevent abortions? Proabortion organizations certainly think so. For example:


On January 22, 2001, on his first business day in office (and the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision establishing a woman's right to an abortion), President George W. Bush re-imposed the Global Gag Rule on the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) population program. This policy restricts foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive USAID family planning funds from using their own, non-U.S. funds to provide legal abortion services, lobby their own governments for abortion law reform, or even provide accurate medical counseling or referrals regarding abortion. The 1973 Helms Amendment is a legislative provision that already restricts U.S. funds from being used for these activities.

President Bush's Executive Memorandum directs USAID "to reinstate in full all of the requirements of the Mexico City Policy in effect on January 19, 1993." According to this policy, foreign organizations--often the only health-care providers in remote, rural areas--are prohibited from using their own, non-U.S. funds for:
• providing legal abortions even where a woman's physical or mental health is endangered (the only exceptions are in cases of rape, incest, or where the woman's life is endangered);
• providing advice and information regarding the availability and benefits of abortion and from providing referrals to another health clinic;
• lobbying their own governments to legalize abortion, to maintain current law and oppose restrictions, or to decriminalize abortion; and
• conducting public education campaigns regarding abortion.

In addition, even the provision of services that are "permitted"1 on paper, such as life-saving abortions and post-abortion care, are often curtailed because NGOs fear jeopardizing their funding through any association with abortion. Providers may even be reluctant to dispense emergency contraception--which acts to prevent pregnancy and is not an abortifacient --because of the Global Gag Rule.

The U.S. has been a supporter of international family planning and population assistance since the 1960s. However, in 1984, the Reagan Administration imposed restrictions on U.S. funding for international family planning. The so-called "Mexico City Policy," also known as the Global Gag Rule, prohibited overseas NGOs from receiving U.S. funds if, with their own funds and in accordance with the laws of their own countries, they "perform[ed]" or "actively promote[d] abortion as a method of family planning." Further, the Reagan Administration issued extremely restrictive regulations that interpreted the phrase "abortion as a method of family planning" to mean all abortions, except when performed in cases of rape, incest, or when the life (but not health) of the woman would be endangered if the fetus was carried to term. The Clinton Administration ended the Global Gag Rule in 1993 by executive order.

Since 1995, U.S. congressional foes of family planning and abortion rights have sought to enact funding restrictions similar to the original Global Gag Rule. These ultra-conservative members of Congress inappropriately and unconscionably held payment of U.S. arrears on its UN dues hostage to earlier versions of the Global Gag Rule by attaching riders to bills authorizing the dues payment. In 1999, they forced through a "one-year deal," temporarily re-imposing a modified version of the Global Gag Rule to avoid the looming foreign policy crisis they had created, including pending loss of the U.S. vote in the UN General Assembly. In 2000, Congress and the Clinton Administration eliminated the Global Gag Rule from the FY 2001 appropriations legislation, but withheld the release of international family planning funding until February 15, 2001 to allow the new president to decide whether or not to re-impose the Global Gag Rule. President Bush made the wrong decision.

By stifling public debate and the ability of foreign NGOs to lobby their governments, the Global Gag Rule undermines NGOs' right to exercise freedom of speech.
• Nepal has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in South Asia: 539 women in 100,000 die from pregnancy-related complications (as compared to 7 in 100,000 in the United States). Half of these deaths are caused by unsfe abortion. On September 26, 2002, however, the King of Nepal signed a historic law that legalized abortion on broad grounds.
• Despite the landmark reform of the abortion law, safe abortion services will remain out of reach for many women in Nepal, particularly rural and low-income women. The Bush Administration’s global gag rule will pose an added barrier to ensuring abortion access. The global gag rule will prevent the organizations that receive U.S. family planning assistance from providing or advocating for any aobrtion-related services. These organizations also will not be able to provide counseling or referrals for women to obtain abortion services elsewhere. To provide safe abortion services, these organizations would have to risk bankruptcy and forego U.S. family planning assistance-the largest source of such foreign aid in Nepal. li>
• U.S.-funded NGOs in Russia, where most abortions are legal, cannot meet with governmental officials to express support for policy changes to make legal abortions safer. Nor can they discuss their concerns regarding the negative health impact of a proposed restrictive abortion law in Russia.

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