Monday, January 22, 2007

Blogging for Somebody Else's Choice

It's the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, so I'm offering these thoughts. They're a little "off the beaten path" of my usual rhetoric, but they reflect my current international social work train of thought.

On his first day in office in 2001, President Bush re-established the disingenuously named Mexico City Policy. Commonly called the global gag rule, it decrees that no organization supporting abortion, informing clients about abortion, or lobbying to legalize abortion in its own country can receive U.S. family planning assistance. So nations and service providers have to choose: the comparatively big bucks of U.S. foreign aid vs. the full flow of information and legal services to their citizens. And of course, that's exactly what was intended -that the money would be so vital that the local policy makers would be forced to deny legal services to their clients in order to keep the doors open at all.

But.... if the intent was actually to reduce the number of abortions, then the program has failed. And surely that was the intent. President Bush explicitly said when he signed the order that "it will make abortion more rare." I haven't done extensive research (to say the least), but at least in India and Nepal that has not been the case. In India and Nepal, abortion is legal with very few restrictions and is generally available. Financially and socially privileged people of course still have access and their use of this service is largely unchanged, which was expected by all parties.

Poor women, though, now face a double bind. What the U.S. policy does (and I know I'm repeating myself) is deny family planning assistance to programs that support abortion. So, we deny access to contraception in an attempt to prevent abortion (???). So, without access to contraception, there are unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortions -apparently in record numbers. Anti-abortion proponents need to believe that criminalizing abortion reduces the incidence of abortions, but the numbers just don't support the claims. The incidence of abortion is, rather, tied to the number of unplanned pregnancies. (duh) The thing that changes with the criminalization of abortion is the safety of the women involved.

And of course all of this ignores the reality that the same agencies which provide family planning services are typically the ones on the front lines in AIDS prevention. But no.... no condoms for them either.

So, we impose a policy that reflects neither U.S. law nor U.S. public opinion on other countries. And of course, in many cases, abortion is already quite legal and accepted in those countries. So we impede their efforts at national sovereignty and self-determination while we're at it. And we certainly violate our own guidelines re: international aid which include these: to administer taxpayer funds efficiently and with maximum benefits to the recipients of U.S. aid, and to promote and support American democratic values abroad.

The point we're missing here is that abortion can be safe, legal, and rare. What's so hard about that?

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