Saving lives

October 02, 1990

During the Children's Summit this past weekend the United Nations rang with the rhetoric of good intentions. Leaders from more than 70 countries gathered for the occasion and committed themselves to saving the lives of millions of young children, as well as their mothers who die as the result of childbirth. Those goals would seem to be the kind of common sense proposals that no one could quarrel with. No such luck.

In this country, ideology has won out over saving lives. Since 1984, the United States has been hobbled by a foreign aid policy that prevents U.S. contributions to international family planning organizations like the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) -- organizations considered by the anti-abortion movement to be tainted, even though they do not fund abortions.

Yet without access to contraceptives, families find it difficult to space their children far enough apart to give mothers a chance to rebuild their strength and children a decent chance to grow and thrive before the next baby arrives. A recent study by the Population Crisis Committee found that 1.8 million young lives could be saved each year simply by spacing births two years apart -- a task that could be accomplished by spending only $20 per couple. Children born less than two years after a previous child have a 60 percent to 70 percent higher risk of dying before reaching their first birthday. Even after that milestone, such children have a 50 percent higher risk of dying before age 5.

Those figures are not surprising to anyone familiar with the burgeoning populations and health conditions in many Third World countries. What is surprising is that people who are obsessed with saving the lives of babies in the womb refuse to see how their success against family planning organizations has helped to keep the death rate of women and children in poor countries shamefully high. A good test of President Bush's commitment to the children of the world will be his willingness to change this policy and restore U.S. contributions to these international family planning organizations.

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