Senator John McCain and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very-Bad Ideas on Abstinence-Only Education and the Global Gag Rule

By Christine Cupaiuolo — September 16, 2008

Foreign Policy magazine recently published a list of the 10 worst ideas proposed or adopted by presidential candidates Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain.

There’s no overlap. Most of Obama’s ideas that came under fire have to do with trade agreements and energy solutions. McCain gets zinged for policies ranging from flip-flopping on immigration, to calling for 45 nuclear power plants, to balancing the budget through victory in the war on terror (um, seriously?).

But one of McCain’s not-so-bright ideas stands out, because it addresses both a domestic and global issue that women’s health advocates have been writing about forever, but which doesn’t receive all that much attention from policy wonks: supporting abstinence-only education and the global gag rule.

So kudos to FP editors for identifying McCain’s views on reproductive health as one of his 10 worst ideas:

What he said: Asked on the campaign trail if he thought grants for sex education should include instruction on contraception, McCain turned to an aide for help, saying, “Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception—I’m sure I’m opposed to government spending on it, I’m sure I support the president’s policies on it.” The reporter asked, “Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?” After a long pause, McCain replied, “You’ve stumped me.” Town hall meeting, Iowa, Mar. 16, 2007

Why it’s a bad idea: A landmark, 10-year study sponsored by Congress found in 2007 that students in sexual-abstinence programs “were just as likely to have sex as those who did not, reported having similar numbers of sexual partners, and first had sex at about the same age,” the Chicago Tribune reported. Abstinence-only education is one of the core principles guiding the so-called global gag rule, an executive order passed by President George W. Bush in 2001 that prohibits giving foreign aid to NGOs that offer any kind of counseling on abortion as family planning. McCain voted against repealing the measure in 2005. Critics of the gag rule point to reports showing a shortage of contraceptives, clinic closings, loss of funds for HIV/AIDS education, and a rise in unsafe abortions since it was instituted.

That information is well-documented by the Global Gag Rule Impact Project (a collaborative research effort led by these groups), which has looked at the impact in nine countries since 2002. Most of the research has been done in Africa, but the analysis also includes Europe, Asia and the Caribbean.

First introduced in 1984, the Global Gag Rule, officially known as the Mexico City Policy, was rescinded by former President Bill Clinton in 1993 and reinstated by President George Bush in 2001 on his first day in office.

If McCain is elected, you can be sure he and running mate Sarah Palin won’t be “reforming” or “changing” that policy when they get to Washington.

McCain’s view on abstinence-only education and his failure to grasp the connection between contraception and HIV is something we need to make more noise about. Here’s another item — in a recent op-ed published in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Ellen Bravo wrote:

Recently, I conducted an informal poll among friends, all smart, politically aware people who keep up with the news. A dozen of the 15 people I asked had never seen the clip of a befuddled McCain stroking his chin when a reporter asked about his position on a proposal to require insurance companies that cover Viagra to cover contraceptive products, reminding him that he’d voted against it.

“I certainly do not want to discuss that issue,” McCain replied. “I don’t know enough about it to give you an informed answer because I don’t recall the vote.”

Had that clip — or any of numerous examples of McCain’s other extremist positions and slip-ups — been played more than 600 times in four days, as the “Dean scream” was, today’s polls would be very different.

So, folks, in an effort to amplify the message, please consider embedding this video on your own site (even if you’ve done so before), and spread the word that McCain’s views on abstinence-only education and the global gag rule rank as one of Foreign Policy’s 10 worst ideas.

One response to “Senator John McCain and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very-Bad Ideas on Abstinence-Only Education and the Global Gag Rule”

  1. I really hope they dig up something horrific on Palin because the US cannot afford four years of them in office. We would be in so much economic and social trouble.

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