A blow to family planning aid Ideologues win: Budget train wreck leaves population programs devastated.

February 11, 1996

THE FEDERAL budget debacle has handed right-wing ideologues a victory long denied them in the normal legislative process. Faced with escalating pressure to re-open the government last month, Congress and the White House agreed to a foreign aid budget that imposes cuts and restrictions that could disrupt family planning efforts around the world.

The result also shows the true colors of the small House band who stymied attempts at compromise. These people, led by Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.) are known for their ardent opposition to abortion, legal or illegal. But what their maneuvers illustrate in dramatic fashion is the lengths they will go to confuse the separate issues of abortion and family planning.

In doing so, they are subverting efforts to provide the contraceptives that will allow families in poor countries to plan the number of children they will have, space them far enough apart to give them a decent chance of survival and help preserve the health of the mother.

As a direct result, women's health and contraceptive services may well be interrupted in many parts of the world. That, in turn, will put at risk the lives of thousands of women and children.

Pregnancies will increase, as will the number of illegal and unsafe abortions -- already a huge problem in poor countries. Mothers who cannot physically or financially afford another pregnancy will risk their lives to terminate it in an attempt to preserve the often-precarious welfare of children already born. If the mothers die or, as frequently happens, survive with permanent disabilities, their children will suffer a loss of stability and, in many cases, the economic mainstay of the family.

But when it comes to anti-abortion (and anti-family-planning) zeal, arguments about real people fall prey to ideology. Mr. Smith is fond of railing against family planning aid -- a small percentage of a foreign aid agenda that is itself less than 1 percent of the federal budget. He frequently points to reports of coerced abortions in China, charging that such efforts are aided and abetted by the United States.

The truth tells a different story. The United States does not provide any family planning assistance to China, and U.S. law has long prohibited the use of foreign aid for abortion anywhere. Alas, truth -- and the lives of women and children -- are secondary to concerns that contraception services are nothing but a step toward the slippery slope leading to abortion. That's a cruel perversion of "family values."

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