Q&A with the International Planned Parenthood Federation
The British government recently announced plans to defy the Bush administration by contributing $5.3 million to the International Planned Parenthood Federation's (IPPF) new Global Safe Abortion Program, which aims to provide the services and support needed to reduce the number of unsafe abortions worldwide. This year alone, 19 million women will face serious injury, illness or death as a consequence of abortions performed by unskilled people under unsanitary conditions, according to the IPPF report, "Death and Denial: Unsafe Abortion and Poverty." Nearly 70,000 of those women will die.
On George W. Bush's first day in office, he reinstated the Global Gag Rule, which denies U.S. Agency for International Development 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. As a result, the IPPF has lost approximately $15 million a year in funding. The IPPF serves 37 million women and helps fund thousands of clinics in 180 countries.
Steven Sinding is director-general of the IPPF in London.
How has the Global Gag rule directly impacted your work?
It has forced many of our member associations to close facilities in several African and Asian countries. The reductions in the funds they were receiving through our core grants and directly from USAID has forced them to close clinics, to curtail community based services and hand out fewer contraceptives to their clients.
The United States contribution represented 15-20 percent of our annual program budget. In some parts of the world, like Africa, the grant from the IPPF is hugely important. In Latin American it is relatively marginal because they raise a lot of money locally in the same way that Planned Parenthood in the United States does. The impact was greatest in the poorest regions.
Will the British government's decision to make up for part of that funding make an impact in the near term?
It depends on how many other governments join them. That by itself does not make up for the $15 million a year we estimate we are losing as a consequence of the Global Gag Rule, but it's greatly appreciated. They've [the British government] asked other European governments to join them in supporting the safe abortion fund. I anticipate it could compensate for the loss of the American money.
According to the IPPF's report, Death and Denial, this year alone, 19 million women will face serious injury, illness or death as a consequence of abortions performed by unskilled people under unsanitary conditions and nearly 70,000 will die.
We can't tell you how many of those injuries and deaths are a direct result of the Global Gag Rule. There's just no way we can accurately calculate that, but we have no doubt that the curtailment of services has led directly to suffering by women both because they had pregnancies they didn't want or because they acquired sexually transmitted infections.
How is this impacting Planned Parenthood and people who dedicate their lives to supporting women's rights and reproductive rights?
It's very demoralizing to us. We're tremendously encouraged by the support of European governments who refuse to acknowledge any aspect of American policy. The truth is, the anti-choice movement is becoming stronger, not only in the United States, but over here as well. We see more and more groups organizing in Europe, more and more pressure on European parliamentarians, and more and more organizational activity along the lines of what's happened in the United States. Many of these groups are funded by American counterparts and much of the organizing has been done by groups based in the United States. This is a movement that began in the United States and is now beginning to spread around the world. The Vatican is an active partner with the United States in both funding and supporting these groups, so to some extent it's a catholic movement and an evangelical protestant movement.
What do you think about what's happening here in the United States, specifically the abortion ban in South Dakota with no exceptions for rape and incest?
What's beginning to happen in the United States is what the United States has been doing around the world under the Reagan, Bush I and Bush II administrations. Because of the constitutional guarantees embedded in the Roe v. Wade decision, Republican administrations have been unable to completely defund abortion groups in the United States, so they've taken it out on poor women in developing countries, but those policies are coming home. State by state stripping away at abortion rights is all part of the same general strategy of attacking any organization that supports or participates in programs that provide women with safe abortions.
Many of these hardcore anti-choice groups, while they say they oppose abortion, never talk about decreasing the number of unwanted pregnancies. In fact, most of them oppose birth control.
They're fighting modern morality. I think they're scared to death of the implications of the women's movement, the changes in sexual behavior that's occurred over the last half a century and the breakdown in their definition of the traditional family, including women's roles in the household and high divorce rates.
The whole fabric of modern life in industrial countries is profoundly threatening to their value systems. They think abortion and the widespread availability of contraception is causing this. When you look at the world in that way, the enemy becomes organizations that provide contraception and access to safe abortions to empower women. That's exactly what they hate.
If American women understood what the actions of our government means to the lives of women around the world, particularly poor women in poor countries, they couldn't in good conscience support this administration for any reason. The fact is, what the Bush administration is doing to women in the developing world hasn't really penetrated the consciousness of the American electorate.