With three months left to his presidency, George W. Bush just can’t seem to stop meddling with women’s reproductive health. And when this administration meddles, the results are usually tragic.
In the latest instance, the U.S. Agency for International Development has told six African governments that they must stop giving U.S.-donated contraceptives — including condoms, birth control pills and intrauterine devices — to Marie Stopes International, a UK-based reproductive family planning organization that distributes contraceptives and operates health clinics in needy communities.
The reason? MSI works with the U.N. Population Fund in China, and the United States in 2002 cut all financing for the population fund because the administration claims, without basis, that the fund supports coercive abortion in China.
Here’s some background on Bush’s grudge with the UNPF, and the distorted influence the Population Research Institute, a small, right-wing group in Virginia, had on Bush’s decision to cut funding.
The countries affected by the administration’s most recent move include Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, in an excellent column published today, explains how the false accusation and the administration’s twisted logic will harm women:
It’s true that China’s one-child policy sometimes includes forced abortion, and when traveling in rural China, I still come across peasants whose homes have been knocked down as punishment for an unauthorized child. But the U.N. fund has been the most powerful force in moderating China’s policy, and a State Department team itself found no evidence of any U.N. involvement in the coercion.
Mr. Bush’s defunding of the U.N. Population Fund — backed by Senator McCain — has persisted since 2002. What is new is the extension of that policy to a leading private family-planning organization like Marie Stopes International.
“The irony and hypocrisy of it is that this is a bone to the self-described ‘pro-life’ movement, but it will result in deaths to women who just want to space their births,” said Dana Hovig, the chief executive of Marie Stopes International. The organization estimates that the result will be at least 157,000 additional unwanted pregnancies per year, leading to 62,000 additional abortions and 660 women dying in childbirth.
That may overstate the impact. Kent Hill, an official of the U.S. aid agency, insists that there will be no increase in pregnancies because the American contraceptives will simply be routed to other aid groups in Africa.
That will work to some degree in big cities. But it’s a fantasy in rural Africa. Over the years, I’ve dropped in on a half-dozen Marie Stopes clinics, and in rural areas there’s typically nothing else for many miles around. Women in the villages simply have no other source of family planning.
“This nearsighted maneuver will have direct and dire consequences,” a group of prominent public health experts in America declared in an open letter, adding that the action “will translate almost immediately into increased maternal death and disability.”
Plus: This is a good time to think about throwing some support to 34 Million Friends of UNFPA, which was founded to help make up for the loss of funds for women’s health services worldwide.