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Catholic Hierarchy and Political Fundamentalism Harm Women, Families Worldwide

April 23, 2004

Statement of Frances Kissling, President, Catholics for a Free Choice,
Global Abortion Politics Press Conference of International Nongovernmental Organizations,
National Press Club, April 23, 9:30 am

WASHINGTON, DC—Much has changed since the 1992 March for Women’s Lives. This past decade, we have seen a steep increase in the threat to women’s reproductive health in the United States. Today, we face direct challenges to family planning services – an area once perceived as safe from governmental interference. And if we think that things are bad in the US, we know that the challenges to family planning services overseas are far, far greater, because what were once domestic policy questions have now become global issues.

While we all celebrate the advances made at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, that time also marked an acceleration in the unprecedented attacks on basic women’s health services throughout the world. In 1994, the Vatican and a few ultra-conservative Islamic governments stood alone to challenge access to family planning, condoms as means of preventing the transmission of HIV and AIDS, emergency contraception and abortion for women who have been raped in armed conflict, and comprehensive sexuality education for young people. With the election of George W. Bush, the Vatican was able to lower its voice and have, in the US government, a loud and active partner in its tyrannical campaign against women.

George Bush has indeed declared war on the world’s women. And the men and women who stand with us here today are leading the counterattack.

The current US administration cut off funds to the UNFPA. It has insisted upon an abstinence-only AIDS prevention education program. It imposed a “Global Gag Rule” prohibiting groups that provide basic healthcare services from making women aware of all their options when facing an unplanned or unhealthy pregnancy.

These are not moral acts; these are purely political decisions, designed to give those on the right – from the Catholic bishops to the Christian Coalition to Focus on the Family – temporary succor in their unceasing efforts to deny all women, both here and abroad, the right to make decisions which most intimately and critically affect their lives.

The streets of this nation’s capital will be filled these next few days with American women, men, and families marching against the negative effects of a global fundamentalism sponsored and funded by their own government. And we are joined by hundreds of women and men from countries all over the world who understand that all our voices are fundamental in the struggle against this fundamentalism.

It is sometimes hard for Catholics, who are overwhelmingly prochoice on all reproductive health issues, to call their own religious leaders fundamentalists. But the fact is that every form of fundamentalism has as one of its central tenets the control of women’s lives, especially over reproduction.

There is no religion that is more rigid in its attempt to control women’s reproductive lives than the Catholic church. No other religion has blanket prohibitions against contraception for married couples and against abortion for all reasons, including when a woman’s life is in danger. George Bush’s global gag rule cuts off family planning services that would prevent abortion; the Vatican’s global gag rule prevents Catholic hospitals throughout the world from providing education and services that would prevent HIV/AIDS, provide abortion and emergency contraception, and save women’s lives in childbirth.

The international reproductive health activists who join us today are saving women’s lives. They will share with you the daily impact of the Bush administration’s policies. They will tell you why they have taken the unprecedented step of coming to Washington, DC, to let the American people know that, while WE think we have it bad, it is women’s lives in the developing world that are on the line in Bush’s War on Women.

—Statement ends—