In “Exporting Extremism,” Feldt documents the way right wing ideology permeated American foreign policy during the Bush era. The chapter describes the effects of the Global Gag Order (aka “Mexico City Policy”), which prohibits the distribution of funds to nongovernmental organizations that provide information about abortion, referrals to abortion providers, or perform abortions themselves. Feldt shows that the impact goes far beyond abortion – that the Global Gag Order also cripples organizations’ abilities to provide contraceptives and condoms, since funding to family planning groups has been gutted as a result. Fortunately, the Obama administration rescinded the policy, but the world is still feeling the effects of eight years of restricted funding.
The Bush administration didn’t stop at the Global Gag Order and just call it a day. They went further than any US administration had gone before. The Mexico City Policy was originally adopted in 1984 under the Reagan administration, even though federal law already prohibited funding for abortion services under the 1973 Hyde Amendment. Bush took it a few steps further by preventing money from going to organizations that even talked about abortion. Foreign aid is usually distributed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), but Bush also prohibited State Department funds, which usually go to refugee services, from being used for reproductive services.
“Exporting Extremism” is probably the most problematic chapter in Feldt’s book. I agree with most of what she says – US foreign policies have had a devastating impact on family planning services providers around the world. However, the way that women are positioned in the chapter is very problematic. Feldt says that family planning funds are necessary because women in other countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, need our help. Abstinence-only programs are useless for women who aren’t in a position to say no to sex. While I can agree with that statement in theory, it becomes troubling when the statement is used to position African women as being perpetually helpless. It puts them in the role of victim, and the US in the role of savior. [Read more...]