Press Releases 2001

US NGO Leaders Praise EU Action on Bush “Global Gag Rule”

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Decry ethical and constitutional lapses in US policy

Washington, DC—Leading nongovernmental organizations in the United States today sent a letter to European Union Development Commissioner Poul Nielson, praising his suggestion that the European Union would make up the shortfall in international family planning funding caused by President George Bush’s implementation of the “global gag rule.”  However, the letter noted that this does not alleviate US responsibility in this area.

The groups also criticized the new policy—which forbids any foreign nongovernmental organization that accepts US family planning funding from providing abortions with their own money or lobbying in their own countries on abortion-related issues—as a violation of medical ethics, reproductive health rights and democratic principles.

“Women, especially poor women, are in desperate need of the full range of reproductive health services and the power to make reproductive health decisions on the basis of full information and access to safe and legal services.…That United States international family planning assistance would be conditioned on an NGO’s agreement to violate medical ethics by denying women access to the full range of information about reproductive health services, including safe abortion, as well as require that they absent themselves from the public debate regarding national or international policy on abortion, is an astonishing and unconscionable disregard for the most basic principles of democracy and respect for international sovereignty,” the letter reads.

International public health experts estimate that as many as 600,000 women die each year from the complications of pregnancy and childbirth, and that infant and child mortality could be decreased 25 percent by providing women with the resources to space their pregnancies. The World Health Organization estimates that 80,000 women die annually from unsafe abortion.

The full text of the letter follows:

February 7, 2001

Mr. Poul Nielson
Commissioner, Development
European Union
Humanitarian Aid Office
Rue de la Loi 200/Wetstraat 200
B-1049 Brussels
Belgium

Dear Mr. Nielson:
Your recent comments on President George Bush’s reinstatement of the “global gag rule” were a great boost for our morale. As United States nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), we are gratified by your support. While we are gratified that the European Union would move to fill the funding gap left by our president’s callous disregard for the plight faced by women throughout the world, this does not alleviate the United States’ responsibility in this area.

Women, especially poor women, are in desperate need of the full range of reproductive health services and the power to make reproductive health decisions on the basis of full information and access to safe and legal services. We are also embarrassed that rights enshrined in the United States Constitution need to be defended by those outside the country when our own government refuses to honor them beyond its borders.

That United States international family planning assistance would be conditioned on an NGO’s agreement to violate medical ethics by denying women access to the full range of information about reproductive health services, including safe abortion, as well as require that they absent themselves from the public debate regarding national or international policy on abortion, is an astonishing and unconscionable disregard for the most basic principles of democracy and respect for national sovereignty.

The European Union and the donor countries of Europe have been in the forefront of enlightened and respectful international reproductive health policy. They have been quick to accept the advances in thinking about population and development that place women’s empowerment and rights at the center of decision-making. They have been especially supportive of the role NGOs in low- and middle-income countries play in articulating values and policy as well as providing services.  NGOs are crucial partners in the effort to prevent the spread of AIDS, to save women’s lives by providing much-needed reproductive health services, to inform policy through research and monitoring of services and to partner with governments in improving reproductive health law and policy.

We wholeheartedly support your efforts to strengthen the work of NGOs and United Nations’ agencies in this field. Their work helps to protect women around the world from unsafe abortions and takes practical, concrete steps to reduce the need for abortion, while lifting families from poverty, educating the young about HIV prevention and providing crucial family planning services. We urge you to follow through on your statement and work with European and world leaders to replace any shortfall that results from President Bush’s actions.

If there are any ways in which we can help you in your effort to ensure that NGOs are able to do their work, do not hesitate to let us know. Rest assured that we will work unceasingly to overturn the newly reenacted “global gag rule.”  Again our sincere thanks for your courage and commitment to democracy, sound medical ethics and women’s health and rights.

Sincerely,

Alan Guttmacher Institute
American Humanist Association
American Medical Women’s Association
Americans for Religious Liberty
Association of Reproductive Health Professionals
Catholics for a Free Choice
Center for Reproductive Law and Policy
Center for Women Policy Studies
International Women’s Health Coalition
National Abortion Federation
National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League
National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health
National Black Women’s Health Project
National Council of Jewish Women
National Latina Health Organization
National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association
Pathfinder International
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Population Action International
Population Institute
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
Voters for Choice

For more information, contact: 

  • Alan Guttmacher Institute: Susan Cohen, 202-296-4012;
  • American Humanist Association: Tony Hileman, 202-238-9088;
  • American Medical Women’s Association: Melisa Marin Lindamood, 703-838-0500;
  • Americans for Religious Liberty: Edd Doerr, 301-260-2988
  • Association of Reproductive Health Professionals: Sean Prichard, 202-466-3825
  • Catholics for a Free Choice: Paul Silva, 202-986-6093;
  • Center for Reproductive Law and Policy: Susan Valentine, 202-530-2975;
  • Center for Women Policy Studies: Kathy Hudson, 202-872-1770, ext. 203;
  • International Women’s Health Coalition: Ellen Sweet, 212-979-9009;
  • National Abortion Federation: Stephanie Mueller, 202-667-5881;
  • National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League: Julie Piscitelli, 202-973-3048;
  • National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health: Susan Wysocki, 202-543-9693;
  • National Black Women’s Health Project: Brenda Romney, 202-543-9311, ext. 22;
  • National Council of Jewish Women: Emily Felt, 202-296-2588;
  • National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association: Adrienne Verrilli, 202-293-3114;
  • National Latina Health Organization: Luz Alvarez Martinez, 510-534-1362;
  • Pathfinder International: Kate Bourne, 617-924-7200;
  • Planned Parenthood Federation of America: Kirsten Sherk, 202-973-4864;
  • Population Action International: Steven Biel, 202-557-3423;
  • Population Institute: Mita Patel, 202-544-3300, ext. 112;
  • Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice: Marjorie Signer, 202-628-7700, ext. 208;
  • Voters for Choice: Betsy Marvin, 202-944-5080.

Catholics for Choice shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women's well-being and respect and affirm the capacity of women and men to make moral decisions about their lives.