Bush Blocks U.S. Funds for Family Planning

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, January 23, 2001 (ENS) - President George W. Bush has decided to block U.S. funds to international family planning groups that offer abortion and abortion counseling. The order reverses the position held by the Clinton administration, and constrains efforts to control a growing population.

"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 wrote in an executive memo to the Agency for International Development (AID), which distributes U.S. monetary aid to other countries.

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President George W. Bush assumed power on Saturday (Photo courtesy The White House)
In a statement read at the antiabortion March for Life on the National Mall on Monday, Bush wrote, "The promises of our Declaration of Independence are not just for the strong, the independent or the healthy. They are for everyone - including unborn children."

"President Bush's decision to reinstate Presidents Reagan and Bush's policy of not using United States taxpayer's money to fund international groups that support abortion, is a courageous act and welcomed by the pro-life community," said Michael Long, state chair of the Conservative Party of New York State. "Conservatives around the Nation can once again look to their President with pride and salute his courage to stand strong for the unborn."

The anti-abortion order was signed Monday, the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

Bush's move reinstitutes a policy developed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. The stance is known familiarly as "the Mexico City policy," named for the conference where Reagan announced the funding limitations.

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A young mother in a Brazilian slum. More than 14 million adolescent girls give birth each year and a large proportion of these pregnancies are unwanted (Photo by Nigel Dickenson, courtesy United Nations Population Fund)
Critics call the policy a "global gag rule."

In 1993, when President Bill Clinton took office from former president George Bush, he reversed the policy. Last fall, he brokered an agreement with Republicans in Congress to deliver $425 million in aid to international family planning programs that he said "promote women's health and saves women's lives."

Those funds will now be cut off.

The "Mexico City policy" blocks funding for family planning groups that offer abortion as an option to their clients. In order to receive any U.S. funds, these international organizations will have to avoid even talking about abortion to their clients, or lobbying to change abortion laws in their own countries.

Groups receiving U.S. funding are barred from even using monies they raise themselves to further the availability of legal abortions. Without U.S. funding, many of these organizations would be unable to support health programs for pregnant women and children.

Environmental groups working to slow population growth said the Bush decision is a major blow to their efforts.

"Only days after pledging in his inaugural address to be compassionate and to promote the virtues of unity, President George W. Bush started the first week of his presidency with a divisive and uncompassionate act - reinstating the global gag rule on family planning," said Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope. "The anti-democratic global gag rule is out of step with the vast majority of Americans who support family planning and want to protect the global environment."

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Kadiatu Samu, who has had no prenatal care and whose child was stillborn, is examined by a maternity ward nurse in Bo, Sierra Leone. From 13 pregnancies, she has five surviving children (Photo by Giacomo Pirozzi, courtesy UNICEF)
"Reinstating the global gag rule will hurt women and the environment," Pope continued. "This policy will ultimately impact all efforts to protect the environment. Because rapid population growth exacerbates every environmental problem, it is intimately linked to all our efforts to protect the environment. The rate at which we are consuming natural resources is jeopardizing our planet's health and threatening the availability of water, fisheries, and forests for our children and future generations."

Pope said that the world's six billion people place heavy demands on the world's resources. "For example, today more than 500 million people face water scarcity; the world's forests have shrunk from one third to one fifth of their original size; and we are increasing the level of green house gases in our atmosphere every day," he said.

"By limiting access to information and services that help families to decide the timing and spacing of their children, President Bush is making it more difficult to protect the natural resources that are under pressure from the demands of rapidly increasing population," Pope concluded. "Family planning saves women, children and our planet. President Bush's act may satisfy a small group of extremists at the right wing of his party, but it does not represent the will and compassion of the American people."

Bush's decision was also condemned by groups ranging from Catholics for a Free Choice, the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition, the National Abortion Federation, the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, the National Women's Law Center, and Zero Population Growth.

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Crowds pack Arlington National Cemetary in Virginia on a holiday (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)
Peter Kostmayer, president of Zero Population Growth, said Bush's move will not reduce the number of abortions in the world.

"New restrictions on family planning funds will do nothing to reduce abortion around the world; they will only cause more abortions," said Kostmayer. "We know that family planning reduces abortion by allowing women the power to choose when to have children and how many children to have. It's ironic that the President chose today - when anti-abortion activists converged on Washington - to announce his intention to impose a policy to make abortion more prevalent around the world."