Reproductive Blackmail and the Funding of Morality

by Jan Baughman

March 5, 2001

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One of President Bush's first executive orders came on January 22nd, on the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, when he reinstated the ban first implemented by Ronald Reagan (the 'Mexico City Policy') and later rescinded by President Clinton prohibiting US funding for international aid groups that provide abortions or abortion counseling. This ban holds true whether or not an organization uses US funds to provide any of these services, and independent of the extent of other services provided, such as family planning, education and health care.

The president wants to prevent abortions by providing "quality voluntary family planning services." "Taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or actively promote abortion either here or abroad," stated Bush. Quality volunteer family planning as in abstinence and limited access to birth control? All volunteers please step to the front. We are simply withholding money in an attempt to legislate 'morality'.

If you want our mighty dollars, you'd better act accordingly and not only don't provide abortion, but don't even talk about it. No doubt our action will make a strong statement about our moral authority and inspire all those needy countries to change their evil ways, just like they did under Reagan. Yet according to International Planned Parenthood Foundation Director General Ingar Brueggemann, "To place restrictions on family planning choices disempowers women and men and undermines their efforts to extricate themselves from poverty. The Mexico City policy has cost many lives and actually increased to a large degree the number of unintended pregnancies and illegal, unsafe abortions causing death and disability."

The government cannot impose a Mexico City ban in the US since abortion is legal. However, since 1995, states have enacted 262 restrictions on abortion and, according to Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, "It is harder for a woman today to exercise her constitutional right to choose than when the Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade in 1973." "Congress and the Presidency are in anti-choice hands." Nationwide, 86% of all counties and 96% of rural counties have no identifiable abortion provider.

In the meantime, the US government spends less than $50 million annually on research and development for contraception and prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases. While essentially ignoring contraception development and making access to abortion as limited as possible, the government funds programs intended to influence and propagate 'morality'. As part of the welfare-reform act of 1996, Congress authorized $250 million in federal funds spread over five years to be provided to the states in the form of block grants to promote abstinence until marriage. When combined with required state matching funds of three for every four federal dollars, up to $437 million would be available to support the promotion of abstinence.

One supporting organization is the National Abstinence Clearinghouse, whose goal is "To promote the appreciation for and practice of sexual abstinence (purity) until marriage through the distribution of age appropriate materials." The inclusion of the word 'purity' is indicative of the value judgement applied to the notion of abstinence, and it is stated that marriage should be the ultimate goal. This is not intended for the health and welfare of children, to prevent unwanted pregnancies and diseases, to realistically reduce the number of abortions; rather to save their souls.

Value judgements aside, do abstinence-only programs increase abstinence? No, according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US (SIECUS). http://www.siecus.org/pubs/fact/fact0007.html

"To date, there are six published studies of abstinence-only programs. None have found consistent and significant program effects on delaying the onset of intercourse. At least one has provided strong evidence that the program did not delay the onset of intercourse."

Is sexuality education effective? Yes, according to SIECUS.

"The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy commissioned a review of both sexuality and HIV education programs in 1997. The review concluded that skills-based sexuality education curricula do not hasten the onset of intercourse, do not increase the frequency of intercourse, and do not increase the number of a person's sexual partners. Rather, they can delay the onset of intercourse, reduce the frequency of intercourse, or reduce the number of sexual partners. They can also increase condom or contraceptive use." These finding were supported in reviews by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization's Global Programme on AIDS.

Abstinence-based programs that exclude education on birth control, pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases bury their collective heads in the sand and ignore real-life issues that will need to be confronted by the majority of us, whether before, during, after, or if ever we enter that fragile institution called "marriage." It is as immoral and unethical to withhold this information to children as it is to deny them basic health care when they need it. Likewise, to withhold much-needed funds from organizations that provide or discuss abortion makes women into pawns in the name of so-called values. It is estimated that publically-funded birth control in the US alone prevents 1.3 million unintended pregnancies, about half of which would result in abortion. But when one refuses tangible action and takes the moral high road, it's easy to attribute failure to the behavior of those who choose not to follow, and not to one's own failings.

A few interesting statistics from http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~jtownsen/zpg-boston/zappers.html#health

Holland, with extensive sex education, has teen pregnancy and abortion rates 10% of US (lowest of any industrialized nation). In US, 65% of teens are sexually active; in Holland 57%.

In the United States:

Highest teen pregnancy, abortion and birth rate of any industrialized nation, 43% of females will become pregnant.

Each year: 3 million crisis pregnancies, 1.5 million abortions, 1 million teen pregnancies, 12 million get a sexually transmitted disease.

57% or 3.5 million of 6 million pregnancies per year are unintended (up to 3.5 times other Western democracies), half of those (1.6 million) are aborted (up to 4 times).

Unintended pregnancies: 57% overall; 82% for teens, 56% age 35-39, 77% over age 40.

30.5% of babies are born out of wedlock, world's highest (22% for whites, 68% for blacks).

Given these statistics, would you spend your health care dollars to promote abstinence, or to provide adequate education and access to birth control? Think about it, whether you are in favor of or opposed to abortion, and make your own judgement.



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Related External Links

National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League

American Civil Liberties Union


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Published March 5, 2001
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