The War on Choice: Exporting Extremism

400000000000000076829_s4This is part three of my review of Gloria Feldt’s The War on Choice. Yesterday I talked about her analysis of sex education legislation. And on Tuesday I looked at “The State of the Uterus.”

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 Fortunately, the Obama administration rescinded the policy, but the world is still feeling the effects of eight years of restricted funding.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...]

Family Planning: A Great Return on the Investment

A new report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) shows that development assistance for family planning services in developing nations is a pretty remarkable investment. According to the study, donor nations can see a 4-fold return on their investment if they support family planning services.

  • For 2007, donor countries should have contributed $3 billion of the $17.1 billion total estimated cost for contraceptive services. Yet the actual support provided by donors was only about $500 million – leaving a shortfall of $2.5 billion.
  • In a time of global financial difficulties, donor countries may want to avoid fulfilling such financial commitments. This would be a mistake. The cost of meeting the need for contraception is relatively modest, and an investment now will result in large future savings: Studies show that each dollar invested in contraceptive services will avoid between $1.70 and $4.00 in expenditures . . . but can total as much as $31.00 for each dollar spent on family planning.

Part of the problem is that the United States spent the last eight years neglecting to fund family planning services because of the Global Gag Order (aka “Mexico City Policy”), which prohibited US funds from being distributed to organizations that performed abortions, whether or not US funds were being used to perform them. This means that agencies which provided contraception options for women were woefully underfunded as a result. Thankfully the Obama administration has lifted this ban. But there is still a large financial shortfall that needs to be addressed. [Read more...]