Monday, February 13, 2006

A British thumb in Bush's eye

Tony Blair is no Pearl of Great Value in my book, but I have to hand it to him on this one.
The British government will today publicly defy the United States by giving money for safe abortion services in developing countries to organisations that have been cut off from American funding.

Nearly 70,000 women and girls died last year because they went to back-street abortionists. Hundreds of thousands of others suffered serious injuries.

Critics of America's aid policy say some might have lived if the US had not withdrawn funding from clinics that provide safe services - or that simply tell women where to find them.

The "global gag" rule, as it has become known, was imposed by President George Bush in 2001. It requires any organisation applying for US funds to sign an undertaking not to counsel women on abortion - other than advising against it - or provide abortion services.

The UK will today become the founder donor of a fund set up specifically to attempt to replace the lost dollars and increase safe abortion services. (The Guardian)
The toll in women's lives the gag rule has taken is unknown but considered substantial by most experts. As in the bad old days, the lack of reproductive counseling services and safe abortions have had a predictable result.
[The Department for International Development asked the International Planned Parenthood Federation] to produce a report on the scale of the damage caused by unsafe abortion. Death and Denial: Unsafe Abortion and Poverty, is published today. It reveals that an estimated 19 million women will risk the consequences of an unsafe abortion this year, of whom 70,000 will die. This accounts for 13% of the 500,000 maternal deaths each year. Reducing unsafe abortions is critical to reaching the UN's Millennium Development Goal on cutting maternal mortality, said [the UK's] Mr Thomas.

Women's low status in many poor countries makes them vulnerable to sexual coercion, abuse and exploitation, says the report. Almost 50% of sexual assaults worldwide are against girls aged 15 or less.

The death and injury toll is highest in countries where abortion is illegal or severely restricted, as in Kenya, where some 30% to 50% of maternal deaths are a result of unsafe abortion.
This is great news for the NGOs who have lost important resources because of Bush administration pandering to the Christian radical right. It is also amusing to see Blair stick his thumb in George's eye. Too bad he didn't do that on Iraq.