Sierra Club statement on "global gag rule"

by Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director

nly days after pledging in his inaugural address to be compassionate and to promote the virtues of unity, President George W. Bush started the first week of his presidency with a divisive and uncompassionate act reinstating the global gag rule on family planning.

Reinstating the global gag rule is no way for President Bush to fulfill his promise to be a compassionate leader and to unite a deeply divided country. The antidemocratic global gag rule is out of step with the vast majority of Americans who support family planning and want to protect the global environment.

The global gag rule bars international family planning organizations that receive a single dollar of US funds from using their own money to talk about abortion with their patients, provide abortion services, or lobby to change abortion laws in their countries. Under this rule, overseas organizations cannot use their own revenue for these purposes. If they do, they may be barred from receiving US humanitarian aid that goes to help maternal mortality and child survival programs. In reality, US law has prevented US taxpayer dollars from paying for abortions overseas since 1973.

Reinstating the global gag rule will hurt women and the environment. This policy will ultimately impact all efforts to protect the environment. Because rapid population growth exacerbates every environmental problem, it is intimately linked to all our efforts to protect the environment. The rate at which we are consuming natural resources is jeopardizing our planet's health and threatening the availability of water, fisheries, and forests for our children and future generations. For example, today more than 500 million people face water scarcity; the world's forests have shrunk from one third to one fifth of their original size; and we are increasing the level of green house gases in our atmosphere every day.

By limiting access to information and services that help families to decide the timing and spacing of their children, President Bush is making it more difficult to protect the natural resources that are under pressure from the demands of rapidly increasing population. The 630,000 members of the Sierra Club know that population and consumption pressures are critical environmental issues. To address the core causes of these problems effectively, we must adopt the strategy agreed to at the 1994 UN Conference on Population and Development - to prioritize family planning, girls education and women's empowerment programs that encourage smaller and healthier families.

Healthy families are good for the environment. The Sierra Club supports women and families and their right to information and access to family planning and reproductive health services. President Bush's action hurts women who are dying every minute of every day from complications of pregnancy. President Bush's action to reinstate the gag rule hurts families who are working to create a better life for their children. And President Bush's action hurts the environment. By damaging family planning groups overseas, President Bush is placing more pressure on our fragile environment. Family planning saves women, children and our planet. President Bush's act may satisfy a small group of extremists at the right wing of his party, but it does not represent the will and compassion of the American people.

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