Restoring international family planning is the compassionate choice

by Reverend Margo McKenna

ast month, President George W. Bush's hand-picked fact-finding team returned from China to report its investigation on coerced abortion. The team concluded that United Nations programs in China do not engage in such activity. ÊPeople around the world who cherish a woman's right to choose were heartened by this news because they understand that a woman's right to continue a pregnancy is just as important as her right to terminate it. They also held hope that the findings would persuade Bush to restore funding for international family planning, a program that prevents unintended pregnancy and saves lives.

    The reason Bush sent a fact-finding team to China in the first place was because he was considering restoring the $34 million in United National Population Fund (UNFPA), which he withdrew on his first day in the White House. Bush reinstated a Reagan-era global gag rule, which prohibits any foreign country that receives family planning funds from the United States from even speaking the word “abortion.” If family planning organizations in developing nations even mention that pregnancy termination is an option for an unwanted pregnancy, they will lose funding, and as a result also lose their ability to offer education about family planning, disease prevention, prenatal care, prostate cancer and AIDS.

    Bush claimed that his decision was based on his deeply held religious views on abortion, but family planning is not an abortion issue. Current law already prohibits using taxpayer funds to perform abortion or lobby for or against it abroad. United States taxpayer funds do not pay for or “promote” abortions overseas, and haven't since the 1973 Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act.

    Family planning is about reducing the rate of unplanned pregnancy, thereby reducing the need for abortion. Increased condom use also decreases the risk of sexually transmissible infection.

    People of faith hold a broad range of opinions on abortion, but generally agree on the merits of family planning and disease prevention. Highly respected religious leaders have supported modern family planning as a moral good. The Dalai Lama has said, “family planning is crucial, especially in the developing world.” Anglican Bishop Desmund Tutu stated, “planned parenthood is an obligation of those who are Christians. Our church thinks we should use scientific methods that assist in family planning.”

    There is nothing compassionate about denying family planning assistance to foreign nations. Time and time again, studies confirm that when access to family planning services is limited, the abortion rate increases. When the rate of abortion increases in countries where the service is illegal, women die. We must also do everything within our power to help reduce the spread of AIDS and sexually transmissible infections.

    What's the point of sending a fact-finding team to China if Bush had no intention of listening to its recommendations? As a pastor and a supporter of reproductive choice, I urge President Bush to reconsider his position and restore funding for international family planning.

    Reverend Margo McKenna, Chalice Unitarian Universalist Church in Poway.