CONGRESS FACES a vote this week that could determine the fate of thousands of families in developing countries around the world. According to an agreement hammered out in budget deliberations, Congress will decide in the next few days whether to remove administrative restrictions on U.S. aid for family planning programs. President Clinton has formally certified that the restrictions impose a wasteful and costly burden on these programs.
Supporters of the idea that men and women should be able to plan the size and spacing of their families had hoped that this would be seen as a clear vote on access to family planning services -- not as a vote on abortion. U.S. law has long prohibited the use of these funds for abortion, but that has never satisfied a vocal minority in Congress. Now these lawmakers are doing their best to characterize the vote as an indication of support or opposition to abortion.
To succeed in that effort they must fudge the issues and shift the focus from the fact that family planning services help women avoid the desperate, illegal and unsafe abortions that cause so much tragedy in the developing world. It also must gloss over the fact that giving poor women the ability to space their children two years apart is giving those infants a significantly better chance of survival.
Annual childbearing -- the fate of many women who have no access to contraceptives -- depletes the health of mothers and increases their chances of death or debilitating injury in pregnancy or childbirth. It also prevents mothers from nursing their children through the critical early phase of life, until they are able to survive on solid food. For these reasons, U.S. aid for family planning services is crucial to the health of mothers and their children.
Ideologues want to use this vote as a test of strength. Wiser heads will instead cast their lot with the women and children who would pay the price for political posturing.
Pub Date: 2/11/97