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Study: U.S. Abortion Policy Closes African Clinics


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Study: U.S. Abortion Policy Closes African Clinics

Wed Sep 24, 4:19 PM ET Add Top Stories - Reuters to My Yahoo!

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush (news - web sites)'s anti-abortion policy has forced family planning clinics in poor countries to close, leaving some communities without any healthcare, according to a report issued Wednesday.

Even faith-based clinics that promote abstinence -- in line with White House policy -- have had to close, according to organizers.

Under the policy, known as the Mexico City rule by supporters and the Global Gag rule by opponents, foreign family planning agencies cannot receive U.S. funds if they provide abortion services or lobby to make or keep abortion legal in their own country.

A survey of Ethiopia, Kenya, Romania and Zambia by Population Action International and the Planned Parenthood (news - web sites) Federation of America showed the rule had forced clinics to close and left many men and women without access to contraceptives that could prevent both unwanted pregnancies and AIDS (news - web sites).

"You cannot separate HIV (news - web sites)/AIDS, reproductive health and abortion," said Hillary Fyfe, who heads the Family Life Movement of Zambia, a faith-based group working with adolescents on sex education.

While her group does not promote abortion or even condom use, it does talk about the possibility, and that was enough to lose U.S. funding, Fyfe said. Three clinics in Lusaka closed this year.

"We taught natural family planning and abstinence until marriage," Fyfe said in an interview. Now her group will be unable to holds its workshops unless they can find alternative funding, Fyfe said.

The same is happening in several countries, according to the report.

"Health services have been scaled back and closings of reproductive health clinics have left some communities with no healthcare provider," the group wrote in a statement.


The policy has also hurt AIDS prevention efforts, said the group, which published the findings on the Internet at www.globalgagrule.org.

As one of his first acts in office in 2001, Bush reinstated the rule that former President Bill Clinton (news - web sites), a Democrat, had lifted. The rule was originally imposed in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan (news - web sites) at a Mexico City conference.

Last month Bush ordered the State Department to strengthen the rule by withholding U.S. family planning help from overseas groups that promote or perform abortions with their own money.

Five family planning clinics run by nongovernmental organizations have closed in Kenya because they refused the restrictions and lost funding from the U.S. Agency for International development, the report said.

"As a result, they are prevented from participating in a large-scale integrated health care program funder by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which curtails the effectiveness and reach of the program," the report reads.

In Kenya's Mathare Valley, a family planning clinic closed, leaving 300,000 people with no healthcare services. "And there is no other family planning or reproductive health clinic nearby," the report said.

In Romania, women may be more likely to get abortions, not fewer, because the rule has meant more women cannot get any information on contraceptives that can prevent unwanted pregnancies, the report said.

"This is the real face of Bush's compassionate conservatism -- a war on the world's most vulnerable women and children, who bear the brunt of Bush's obsession with appeasing his domestic political base," Planned Parenthood's Gloria Feldt said in a statement.

But White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the policy only affected family planning clinics, not general health clinics.

"The president had just unveiled a $15 billion program to address the biggest healthcare crisis facing Africa, which is AIDS," she said in a telephone interview. "Any organization that wants to participate in delivering healthcare services relating to AIDS can do so."

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