How Do Bush's Anti-Choice Policies Affect African Women?
Tewodros Melesse, director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation's Africa Region Office, explains how the Global Gag Rule is impacting Africa's ability to offer reproductive services to its women and prevent unwanted pregnancies. The Global Gag Rule denies funding to overseas organizations that perform legal abortions with exceptions for rape and incest or to save a woman's life; provide counseling and referrals for abortion; engage in abortion-related public policy debates; or lobby to make abortion legal or more available in their own country. Bush reinstated the rule on his first day in office.
Is abortion illegal in every African country?
Out of 44 Sub-Saharan African countries, only two have liberal abortion laws: South Africa and Cap Verde. In Zambia, a woman can have an abortion if her health is at risk of if she is having psychological problems.
How does the funding process work?
When funding is reduced at the global level, what we give to our associations decreases. When the gag rule came, our member associations were cut off. They were asked to sign a clause that said they can't even talk about abortions. To tell me I can't talk about a topic because I am getting you money isn't very democratic. Americans have the right to say where their funding is going, but we find it completely unfair to be asking others not to talk about certain topics which are not liked by the American establishment. We believe the American Constitution and virtue of the American democracy exists on individual choices, on freedom and on democracy and to deny that right to others sends the wrong message.
What do you think Americans need to know about African women and the challenges they face?
In most African countries, a woman has to walk 10 kilometers to reach a simple health facility and only 45-50 percent of African women are able to reach those facilities.
By reducing funds, we are being forced to close our facilities. Over half of the population is living on less than $1 a day; forcing us to shut down our clincs doesn't show the generosity of the American people.
In Kenya alone, we have closed eight clinics. That's one country. In other countries, fortunately other donors have stepped in. In Ethiopia, we would have closed 10 clinics, but the Dutch government came and assisted. In Ghana, we would have closed three, but the British came in. The David & Lucile Packard foundation has helped in Ethiopia.
What message would you like to send to the American people?
While the current [American] administration and anti-choice groups says abortion kills life, the very precise intervention to prevent abortion is leading millions of women to abortion and killing so many babies and so many mothers. Over 50 percent of the maternal deaths in Africa are linked to complications due to abortion, which are preventable.
To discriminate against our affiliates because they speak about abortion and freedom of women is contrary to the spirit of the American democracy. It is time to stop this.