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Politics & Policy
U.S. Policies Contribute to Spread of HIV, Childbirth-, Abortion-Related Deaths Among Women, Conference Attendees Say

September 3, 2004

U.S. policies concerning international sex education and reproductive health are contributing to childbirth- and abortion-related deaths as well as the spread of HIV among women around the world, attendees of the Countdown 2015 conference in London said on Thursday on the final day of the meeting, the Los Angeles Times reports (Daniszewski, Los Angeles Times, 9/3). Several nongovernmental agencies -- including the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Population Action International and Family Care International -- held the conference to mark the 10-year anniversary of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt. During the Cairo conference, 179 countries approved a plan to enhance the reproductive health and rights of women throughout the world. Targets set at the 1994 conference aimed to provide family planning options and education to prevent unwanted pregnancies as a way to reduce world poverty and hunger and improve women's rights in developing countries. The groups released a report earlier this week saying that while some countries have made progress toward meeting these goals, other countries have made "little or no progress" in maternal health, HIV/AIDS prevention and education and access to and funding for contraceptives since the Cairo conference (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/1).

U.S. Policies, Funding
Conference delegates on Thursday "delivered a scathing attack" on the Bush administration for contributing to countries' lack of progress by withholding funding from IPPF and the United Nations Population Fund, the AP/Santa Fe New Mexican reports (Gardiner, AP/Santa Fe New Mexican, 9/2). The Bush administration bars U.S. money from international groups that support abortion through direct services, counseling or lobbying activities under policies such as the so-called "Mexico City" policy. In July, the Bush administration announced that it would withhold $34 million in funding for UNFPA for the third consecutive year, saying that because the organization works in China, it indirectly supports the Chinese government's policy of coerced abortions to maintain its one-child-per-family population policy (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/1). UNFPA says that the U.S. funding could have prevented as many as two million unplanned pregnancies and nearly 800,000 abortions, according to the AP/New Mexican. In addition, the Cairo conference called on governments to spend $17 billion annually toward reaching the reproductive health and sex education goals, but all governments combined spent only $9.6 billion on such programs in 2001, according to conference attendees (AP/Santa Fe New Mexican, 9/2).

Delegate Comments on U.S. Role
"We've seen policies emanating from this administration that have led to more unwanted pregnancies around the world, more deaths from pregnancy-related causes and more HIV infections and more unsafe abortions," IPPF Director-General Steven Sinding said, adding that Bush's current policies amount to a "global gag rule that stifles the free speech of health care providers who try to help women in the poorest countries decide how to deal with unwanted pregnancies" (Reaney, Reuters, 9/2). Other delegates said that the administration's policies are an "impediment rather than a force" for improving women's reproductive health and are "putting millions of women's lives at risk," the AP/New Mexican reports. "We were once a beacon of hope," former Sen. Timothy Wirth (D-Colo.), who is president of the United Nations Foundation and the Better World Campaign, said, adding, "To watch this erode so dramatically in the last few years where the United States is now part of what one of our colleagues has called the axis of bigotry ... it's just extraordinary to me. We used to be such a force for good, and we have now become this reactionary force around the world" (AP/Santa Fe New Mexican, 9/2).

HIV/AIDS Prevention Programs
Conference attendees also criticized the Bush administration's promotion of abstinence-only education as a way to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 9/3). The law (HR 1298) authorizing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief endorses the "ABC" HIV prevention model -- abstinence, be faithful, use condoms -- and specifies that one-third of the bill's HIV/AIDS prevention funding should be used for abstinence and monogamy programs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/27). Marcella Howell, director of Advocates for Youth, said that the administration is "burying its head in the sand" by endorsing an "ideologically driven abstinence-only until marriage program that leaves young people with little information" to prevent HIV and unwanted pregnancies, the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 9/3). "The U.S. government has already spent over $1 billion domestically on failed programs," Howell said, adding, "And now the administration is poised to export this unproven policy around the globe as an HIV prevention strategy for youth." Wirth said that the administration also has "attack[ed]" the efficacy of condom usage as a means to prevent the HIV transmission, Reuters reports (Reuters, 9/2). "In a reversal of its historic role, [the United States] has emerged as one of the most significant obstacles to progress," Sinding said, adding, "This insidious war on women's health and rights is threatening some of the very real progress that has been made during the last decade (Los Angeles Times, 9/3).

NPR's "Morning Edition" on Wednesday reported on the conference and the lack of coordination between programs providing services for the "closely intertwined issues" of HIV/AIDS and reproductive health. The segment includes comments from Sinding and Fred Sai, former chair of the conference and an adviser to the president of Ghana on reproductive health and HIV/AIDS (Harris, "Morning Edition," NPR, 9/2). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer. Expanded NPR coverage is available online.

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