Abortion Advocates Claim Pro-Life Policy Is Costing Lives
(CNSNews.com) - The Bush administration's pro-life policies came under attack Wednesday by abortion rights advocates who claim the decision to withhold funding from clinics overseas is leading to a health crisis in developing countries.
Abortion rights supporters have criticized the "Mexico City Policy" since President Bush issued an executive order in January 2001 reinstating the Reagan-era rule that blocks U.S. funding to organizations that promote or perform abortions.
The latest effort came Wednesday, when the Global Gag Rule Impact Project released a report and video claiming that lives are being lost as a result of funding shortages at health care clinics. The coalition of abortion advocates wants the policy rescinded.
"This policy does not do what this administration said it would do. It needs to go away," said Terri Bartlett, vice president for public policy and strategic initiatives at Population Action International. "We're not going away either. As long as this policy is here, we're going to talk about it, continue to call for it to be repealed and continue to document the impact."
Bartlett said Americans have no idea of the impact the policy is having on countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia and Romania, which were the focus of the report. In each country, Bartlett said medical services beyond abortion have been curtailed.
But a pro-life advocate criticized the report for exaggerating the circumstances facing developing countries. Scott Weinberg, spokesman for the Population Research Institute, called it an attempt by "abortion diehards" to advance their agenda.
"Money is available, but they refuse to take it because their primary interest is abortion and not health," Weinberg said. "They claim to have an interest in health, but they refuse to take the money because they refuse to stop promoting abortion as a method of family planning."
When Bush signed the executive order only days into his presidency, he restored a policy that was put into place by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. President Bill Clinton rescinded the policy when he took office in 1993.
"It is my conviction that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or actively promote abortion, either here or abroad," Bush stated when he re-imposed the policy in 2001.
The White House had no response to the report. Bartlett said the coalition hasn't shared its findings with Bush officials and instead plans to lobby members of Congress.
Abortion supporters got a boost in July when Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) managed to add a provision to a foreign assistance bill reversing the policy. But that measure faces an uncertain future and is opposed by Republican leaders in Congress.
The Global Gag Rule Impact Project is made up of Population Action International, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Ipas, an organization that works to improve reproductive health services for women. EngenderHealth and Pathfinder International assisted with the report.
The report claims health care clinics have closed or scaled back services as a result of the loss in funding. Five clinics in Kenya have shut their doors, the Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia has lost 26 percent of its budget and clinics in Ethiopia have run out of contraceptives, the report asserts.
As a result of the policy, abortion providers and organizations that promote the practice are faced with a choice regarding the funds they receive from the U.S. Agency for International Development. They can either reject funding and continue operating normally or accept the money and alter their practices.
Amare Bedada, executive director of the Family Guidance Association of Ethiopia, said his organization decided to forego funding so it could continue to counsel women about all of the reproductive choices available to them. The organization has run out of contraceptives, he said.
Even pro-life advocates have felt an impact, said Hilary Fyfe, chairwoman of the Family Life Movement of Zambia. She said the organization refused funding because it would be medically unethical not to share with women information about abortion.
"When you take away a woman's right to be informed, you rob her of the ability to know herself, protect herself, care for herself and eventually, you take away her dignity," Fyfe said. "How ironic that an administration that claims to be pro-life is making decisions that are killing women."
The lack of information about family planning has resulted in women choosing dangerous abortion procedures rather than safe operations, said Barbara Crane, executive vice president of Ipas. She said 100 million women have faced the trauma of an unsafe abortion. Ipas estimates that more than 500,000 women have died each year from pregnancy-related causes.
Despite the criticism of the Mexico City policy, Weinberg said it was working just as the Bush administration intended. He disputed figures about deaths resulting from abortion and said it has saved far more lives by providing alternatives to abortion.
"The impact on global health care caused by abortion groups that refuse funding is actually a good thing because it's a good policy," Weinberg said. "We're seeing improvements in health care in the developing world because we're able to work more with health groups that have greater interest in basic health care than abortion agitation."
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