Bush's first foreign aid policy

Family planning: Resuming Reagan's ban on those who counsel abortion sets back health efforts.

January 24, 2001

THE CAUSES of family planning, women's health and combating AIDS in poor parts of the world are curtailed by President Bush's first executive order in the foreign aid field.

Mr. Bush reinstated the "Mexico City policy" of President Reagan, so named because it was announced at a population conference in that city in 1984.

The policy denies family planning aid to nongovernment organizations that also do abortion counseling, perform the procedure or advocate laws to permit it.

The policy was maintained by President George H. W. Bush but was ended by President Clinton upon taking office. That the second Bush would reverse the reversal and keep faith with his Republican predecessors was not in doubt.

This so-called "global gag rule" crimps U.S. cooperation with those voluntary organizations best able to improve reproductive health in the Third World.

It weakens assistance to family planning, women's health, population control and, coincidentally, the war on AIDS. Organizations distributing condoms for family planning, as a byproduct, help reduce the spread of HIV.

The policy is also ill-advised as an attempt to legislate for other sovereign countries. It assumes women in the Third World don't deserve the right to a choice that is taken for granted in most developed nations.

Mr. Bush is not, however, withdrawing the United States from all family planning aid. The budget item stands. It's just less effective.

That he took this action on the first weekday of his presidency, which was the 28th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision protecting a woman's right to choose, was political theater. It puts the abortion issue on the front burner.

Other aspects are coming, including an attempt to re-enact the prohibition on late-term abortions, which President Clinton vetoed but President Bush would sign. Such issues as stem-cell research will come to the fore in executive agencies.

In other words, the November election, in which neither candidate discussed the issue unless forced, was really about abortion rights in a big way. But then, every voter on either side who cares always thought it was.

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