Overseas Groups That Perform, Promote Abortion May Receive U.S. Funds To Combat AIDS Under New Bush Policy
Overseas social services agencies that perform or promote abortions may be able to access funds under President Bush's five-year, $15 billion global AIDS relief program, representing a policy shift from the administration's "Mexico City policy," the Los Angeles Times reports (Chen, Los Angeles Times, 2/15). That policy, originally implemented by President Reagan at a population conference in Mexico City in 1984 and reinstated by Bush just days into his presidency, "bars U.S. money from international groups that support abortion, even with their own money, through direct services, counseling or lobbying activities." Under the new policy, outlined by a senior Bush Administration official in a memo to the State Department, social services groups that deal with abortion services would have to "administer AIDS programs separately from family planning" in order to receive funds from the administration's new AIDS program, the official said (Loven, Associated Press, 2/15). The administration official said that the president's approach would allow social service agencies to receive the money to fight AIDS through the State Department's foreign assistance program as long as none of the money went to "activities that encourage or perform abortions." The official also said the policy would allow social service agencies that promoted or performed abortions in one country to receive funds to fight AIDS in another country, but it would prohibit sending money to organizations that provided AIDS treatment and abortion, or abortion counseling, in the same facility (Stevenson, New York Times, 2/15). Another senior White House official said, "Any agency that provides treatment for AIDS will get the money, as long as none of the funds are used for family planning purposes or for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger" (Los Angeles Times, 2/15). Testifying before Congress on Tuesday, lawmakers questioned Secretary of State Colin L. Powell about the administration's policy. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said, "There's many of us up here in Congress that would like to put the restraints on the spending to make sure that we aren't going to fund abortions around the world." Powell said the administration will examine the AIDS proposal "and bounc[e] it against other policies, such as the Mexico City policy, to make sure we have a consistent approach across the whole administration" (New York Times, 2/15). Powell said administration officials will "meet soon" to discuss the matter, the Washington Post reports (Allen, Washington Post, 2/15).
The Bush administration's new policy "is likely to infuriate abortion opponents," who are a "solid core" of the president's supporters, the Los Angeles Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 2/15). However, David O'Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, said that the administration's decision was "wise policy." O'Steen added, "The major fear would be that the funds would be used to encourage HIV-positive women to have abortions, and this stops that" (Washington Post, 2/15). Kirsten Sherk, spokesperson for international programs at Planned Parenthood, said that the policy is "unworkable." Sherk said that women, especially those in developing countries, are unlikely to visit separate facilities to meet different health care needs. Sherk added that the cost of setting up separate facilities may be prohibitive for "cash-strapped" nongovernmental organizations (Associated Press, 2/15). Some family planning advocates said that the administration's policy will be "too restrictive," forcing health providers in resource-poor countries to choose between "providing a full range of health services, including family planning," or receiving funds for AIDS treatment from the United States. Sally Ethelston, vice president for communications at Population Action International, a research and advocacy group, said, "It's very difficult to comment without knowing how it would be applied. But it's likely to compromise the quality of services that are being provided" (New York Times, 2/15). David Smith, senior strategist for the Human Rights Campaign, said that the policy is "definitely a positive development, because we have been stressing that the administration should not let ideological concerns infiltrate sound public health policy" (Washington Post, 2/15).