Bush Administration Punishes "Forced Abortions" in China by Cutting Off Contraceptives in Africa

BlogHer Original Post

There is nothing as infuriating as dangerous public policy made on circular logic. The latest example of irrational policies coming out of the Bush administration is the decision to withhold condoms, birth control pills, and other contraceptives paid for by the United States from Marie Stopes International, a British non-governmental organization that operates family planning and reproductive health clinics in impoverished nations.

Nicholas Kristoff explained in an Oct. 9 New York Times op-ed article that this is part of the Bush administration's retaliation against China's "forced abortion" policies. Except that Marie Stopes International has nothing to do with forced abortion, and withholding contraceptives from clinics that reach thousands of women in African six countries makes no sense as a response to forced abortion in China. Worse, international health experts warn that this action will likely lead to an increase in maternal deaths and abortions in the six African countries in which the US is teaching Maries Stopes International a lesson.

Do you follow the logic? No? Me neither. We have lots of company.

The Global Sociology Blog blasts the decision:

As Kristof concludes his column,

"In some parts of Africa, a woman now has a 1-in-10 risk of dying in childbirth. The idea that U.S. policy may increase that toll is infuriating."

Yes, it is. But it’s ok because it allows the Bush administration to score a few political points on the backs of the poorest women in the world who have no means of fighting back (which is the point). It is one of the functions of the poor and the most vulnerable categories of people (and, of course, women are always in that category) that Herbert Gans described: we can use them for a variety of purposes, including as shock absorbers of externalities of conservative and reactionary policies.

I would add that the global context allows to promote policies that might be unacceptable here but can be imposed upon a category of people without having to pay a political price (because who’s going to notice the appalling consequences of these policies and these women cannot fight back). At the same time, the promoters of these policies will be able to go to the forced pregnancy lobby and claim credit for doing their bidding. It’s a win-win situation.

To be fair, the State Dept. is claiming that they are not reducing the overall amount of contraceptives given to those countries, but distributing them through other channels, hence they are not causing more maternal deaths and abortions. The problem with this logic is that there are places in which Marie Stopes International is the only clinic. So if you cut off their aid, then it doesn't matter if you double it elsewhere. Women who formerly accessed contraception through Marie Stopes International will no longer have access to US funded contraceptives.

At Legal Ruralism, Lisa Pruitt wrote:

We need to be aware not only of urban women, who may have multiple options for birth control assistance, but also rural women, for whom Marie Stopes International may be -- or, more precisely now, was -- their only source of what is literally a life-saving resource.

Exactly. (And, incidentally, this is a problem for women living in rural communities in the United States as well. If we cut off funding to, say, Planned Parenthood, for birth control, thousands of women have no where else to turn for affordable reproductive health care. But that's another story.)

The idea that women will likely die in Africa as a result of the Bush administration's grandstanding brought strong words from Abbe Arenson at Osiris Journal:

I could understand it if I read an article today that said the Bush Administration had denied funding for medication for poor men with erectile dysfunction living overseas. That would not bother me in the least, but to read that once again, The American Taliban, The Bush Administration has shown it's misogyny by denying African womens rights by taking away funding for birth control and family planning. By denying Marie Stopes International funding, funding for a group founded by a woman dedicated to helping women learn about their own anatomy and for helping women with family planning decisions including abortion, the Bush Administration demonstrates how they feel they can still hold power over women by interfering in womens lives, lives that include women and girls who have so very little and some who have been raped and have no other means for getting help... Why not just put up a sign at all clinics overseas that receive our funding saying "the USA just doesn't give a shit what happens to you, you are a women and that means you are a second class citizen according to George W. Bush".

If that sounds overly harsh, it is not. Marie Stopes International explains the numbers:

...the USAID instruction will “seriously disrupt” MSI’s family planning programmes in at least six African countries – Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe - including one where the organisation delivers 25% of all family planning services nationally. Women in these countries will be left with few options other than abortion, the majority of which will be unsafe and will likely result in their death or disability.

...according to formulas developed by the Guttmacher Institute, MSI’s family planning services prevented 5-7 million unwanted pregnancies in 2007 alone, thus preventing 1-1.5 million abortions. Most of these abortions would have been unsafe, putting women’s lives at risk. “For every two intra-uterine devices (IUDs) the US government denies MSI, an unsafe abortion could result unless MSI is able to find alternative supplies,” Hovig explained.

I think it is important to repeat Kristoff's devastating conclusion: "In some parts of Africa, a woman now has a 1-in-10 risk of dying in childbirth. The idea that U.S. policy may increase that toll is infuriating."

No, the decision to withhold contraceptives from poor African women for murky political reasons is not logical, sound, or moral public policy. It's murder. And that does not sound very "pro-life" at all.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants. She is also a writer and community development consultant.

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