Saturday, February 19, 2005

Article from Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando

Access to reproductive health care can save the lives of women and children, advance development and preserve the environment -- but under the Bush administration, access continues to be denied in the developing world.

The great progress of the women's rights movement has made many of us forget that it was once illegal for women in this country to buy contraceptives and that American women once gave birth to an average of six children. It's important to remember that our progress isn't shared by many women in other parts of the world. Nearly 350 million people in the developing world lack access to contraception, and 52 million unplanned pregnancies were reported worldwide in 2003 alone. U.S. policy restrictions, such as the Mexico City Policy, deny women in developing countries the freedoms that women in the United States often take for granted -- and the consequences have proved to be both societal and environmental.

First imposed in 1984 by the Reagan administration and reinstated by President George W. Bush four years ago, the Mexico City Policy prohibits the U.S. government from providing foreign aid and supplies to family-planning organizations overseas that engage in any activity that could be construed (according to arbitrary U.S. guidelines) as being abortion-related, including counseling or referral.

The policy was purportedly designed to reduce the incidence of abortion, yet there is no evidence that such a reduction has occurred. Also known as the Global Gag Rule, the policy has closed scores of clinics in some of the world's poorest countries and drastically impaired other clinics' abilities to maintain adequate levels of staffing/supplies, including condoms needed for HIV prevention. In Africa, for example, there are only enough condoms for every adult male to receive four condoms per year.

Here at home, Florida's teenage pregnancy rate ranks sixth nationally, and, as nearly 80 percent of teen mothers go on welfare, stopping the teen pregnancy cycle is crucial. According to two studies in AGI's Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, individuals between the ages of 15 and 24 account for 50 percent of all new cases of sexually transmitted diseases in 2000. We must recognize that the problems we face locally are also occurring globally but on a much larger scale.

Roughly one-sixth of the world's population lives in environmentally fragile hot spots where the unmet need for family planning is often highest, and that population is growing nearly 40 percent faster than the world as a whole. The largest generation of young adults in history (more than 1.3 billion) is entering its reproductive years, and the number of people facing critical fresh water and crop-land scarcity worldwide is rising rapidly. We must engage our community and encourage our elected officials to help the United States keep its promise to support family planning and reproductive health-care services -- for women, for children, for the planet.

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