Is U.S. 'Gagging' the World on Abortion?

"I'm not satisfied with it because I don't think there should be exceptions for babies conceived by rape or incest," said Judy Brown, president of the American Life League, a Virginia-based anti-abortion rights group with partnerships across Africa and Asia.

"But it's better than not having one," she added. "What the Mexico City Policy does do is make it clear that no American funds are used for abortions — except for rape, incest and the mother's health, of course."

Impeding the Fight Against AIDS?

But critics note that American tax dollars have not been funding abortion abroad since the 1973 Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act prohibited direct U.S. financing of abortion services.

Instead, they accuse the "global gag rule" of inadvertently impeding the global fight against HIV/AIDS. By isolating reproductive health services, the policy has cut funding to a number of leading health organizations in seriously affected countries where government health services are often inadequate, critics say.

And with that funding, organizations have lost their ability to distribute condoms and provide other public health awareness programs.

But Munson insists USAID is committed to fighting AIDS around the globe. He pointed out that President Bush has pledged $15 billion to battling HIV in Africa, and cited the administration's adoption of the "ABC strategy" — Abstinence, Being faithful and Condom use.

"The best thing about the 'ABC strategy' is that there's something in there for everyone," said Munson.

Some critics say promoting "abstinence only" degrades the use of condoms as an HIV-prevention measure. But Munson counters that it works both ways.

"If there are fears that 'abstinence-only' groups will denigrate the importance of condoms in the field, there's also the fear that those promoting condom use will badmouth abstinence," he said. "We need to recognize that the only way to win the war against AIDS is to work together — that's the best part of ABC."

From his office in Katmandu, Bista also hopes for an end to the acrimony over the abortion fight so that his group can best serve the needs of Nepali women.

"There needs to be an understanding that family planning associations do not advocate abortions," he said. "The first focus of our work is to avoid abortions by preventing unwanted pregnancies. If, however, there is an unwanted pregnancy, we think it's the right of the woman to decide whether to terminate the pregnancy or not."

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