By Gov. Howard Dean, M.D.
November 23, 2004
Yet before we congratulate ourselves too much, consider the tens of thousands of women and men who have died as a result of a misguided U.S. policy (the "gag rule") that denies family planning funds to any organization that in countries where abortion is legal provides abortion related information or services (using private funds), along with other reproductive health services. In some countries, a third of the family planning clinics have closed as a result of the withdrawal of U.S. funds.
Some special interest groups are attempting to bring about a total ban on U.S. funding for family planning services even by organizations that abide by the gag rule by pumping out phony statistics and misleading press releases implying that world population growth has nearly stopped and is about to go into decline. Nothing could be further from the truth. Net growth has slowed slightly, but the world's population is still growing by 76 million per year - the equivalent of adding a new U.S. population every four years.
A similar campaign of lies and distortions is being waged to raise questions about the safety and effectiveness of condoms. Men and women across Africa are dying of AIDS because religious fundamentalists have persuaded them not to use condoms on the basis that the manufacturers have supposedly infected condoms with the HIV virus. In sub-Saharan Africa, 27 million are infected with HIV and about 20 million have already died of AIDS. Supplies of U.S.-donated condoms and other contraceptives have been reduced significantly in at least 29 countries. Men in sub-Saharan Africa have access to an average of only three condoms a year. In southern Africa, where over a quarter of the adult population is living with HIV/AIDS, unavailability of condoms is a death sentence.
The human suffering caused by these misguided policies and inadequate funding is staggering:
Add to that the exhausting burden of repeated pregnancies and births, and you have a global picture of suffering that demands global response.
America is divided about the
morality of abortion, but very few Americans would ban all abortions
under every circumstance. It is time to acknowledge that pretending
that banning contraception in developing countries is likely
to make the abortion problem worse not better. And it is time
to acknowledge that our policy on abortion abroad is far more
restrictive than it is in our own country. It seems to me that
we have at least found some compromise in America by allowing
states to set their own policies on abortion within federal guidelines.
Surely we can permit other countries to do the same when it comes
Howard Dean, M.D. and former governor of Vermont, is the founder of Democracy for America, a grassroots organization that supports socially progressive and fiscally responsible political candidates.
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