Caryl Rivers

(WOMENSENEWS)–While few in the media noticed, American foreign policy has moved towards opposition to condoms and towards promotion of “natural” birth control methods such as rhythm and abstinence. It has been reported that the White House political arm believes that Bush Pere lost the presidency because it did not pay enough attention to the right wing. What better gift to the right than deep-sixing Roe and going much further bylimiting the availability of contraception?

During the first two years of hisadministration, George W. Bush shaped his foreign policy to be consistently anti-abortion, but usually not overtly against contraception. This has changed, if the country’s actions at the recent Bangkok meeting of the Asian and Pacific Conference are to be taken seriously.

The U.S. delegation specifically opposed the use of condoms to block the spread of HIV, one of the fiercest plagues to visit the planet, and urged instead the use of abstinence and the rhythm method. (The latter, we used to say in my parochial school days, was spelled M-O-T-H-E-R-H-O-O-D.)

The U.S. delegation also tried to remove references to adolescents in a section of the report of the conference that dealt with reproductive rights, saying that such a provision would promote sexual activity among teen-agers. In Asia, where rural girls are lured away from their families by cartels that run huge brothels that advertise underage girls, keeping such girls away from any information about condoms would only fuel the AIDS crisis.

But only The New York Times, (with a strongly worded editorial), the Associated Press, the redoubtable Ellen Goodman and Women’s Enews seem to be noticing. A database check several days after the conference found that while coverage in the Asian press was widespread, there was little coverage in the American press of a major conference that seems to have moved this nation to a position of opposition to all forms of contraception except abstinence and rhythm.

While 32 nations voted for the plan that reaffirmed the reproductive rights of women and girls, the United States alone voted against such provisions. Nasreen Huq of the Helen Keller International Bangladesh told the South China Morning Post: “The U.S. is trying to impose ideologies. It seems perfectly willing to give U.S. women certain rights, but not to recognize the extension of those rights to others.”

President Puts Christian Conservatives in Charge of AIDS, Sex Ed

But what the administration is doing quite openly abroad, it is doing sotto voce in the United States: opposing any form of contraception other than abstinence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health have quietly removed from their Web sites references to information about the effectiveness of condoms and deleted information on a comprehensive sex education curriculum called “Programs that Work.” A group of 12 Democratic House members, led by Rep. Henry Waxman of California, sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson saying that “scientific decision-making is being subverted by ideology.”

In fact, Bush is putting Christian conservatives in charge of fighting AIDS and instructing the nation’s youth in matters of sex. There’s Claude Allen, a former top aide to Jessie Helms, now at the Department of Health and Human Services as deputy secretary. He is a strong advocate of abstinence-only sex education. Former congressman Tom Coburn of Oklahoma was appointed co-chair of the presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS. Coburn is a vociferous opponent of using condoms to prevent AIDS. As executive director of the group, Bush appointed Patricia Funderburk Ware, an advocate of the idea that abstinence until marriage is the proper formula for sexual conduct.

The abstinence-only dictum may now be infecting our higher-education systems. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has applied for a $200,000 National Institutes of Health grant to create a doctoral program in human sexuality research, aimed at bringing more science to the field. But 30 Republican legislators are asking the Department of Health and Human Services to deny funding, applying the monies instead to abstinence-only programs. No study has yet confirmed the merits of the just-say-no approach, while comprehensive sex education programs have been shown to prevent disease and unwanted pregnancy.

In fact, the group Human Rights Watch recently claimed that since 1997, Congress has allocated more than $350 million–$100 million in fiscal year 2002 alone–to support abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Such programs, the group says, “deny children basic information that could protect them from HIV/AIDS infection and discriminate against gay and lesbian children. In so doing, these programs not only interfere with fundamental rights to information, to health and to equal protection under the law. They also place children at unnecessary risk of HIV infection and premature death. In the case of HIV/AIDS, what they don’t know may kill them.”

“Compassionate conservatism,” it seems, means that death is preferable to sex, for teen-agers or by anyone who is not married and monogamous. It apparently means believing that condoms are a greater danger to the women of the world than AIDS, even though the United Nations says that in Africa alone, half of the 4 million new AIDS cases annually are among women.

But the name “Bush” was not always attached to such reactionary policies. Prescott Bush, Dubya’s grandfather, was one of the Senate’s strongest supporters of family planning in his day and a generous contributor to Planned Parenthood.

He must be turning over in his grave.

Caryl Rivers is a professor of journalism at Boston University.

For more information:

Also see Women’s Enews, December 21, 2002:
“U.S. Delegation Tries Rewriting 1994 Cairo Pact”

Population Action International–
“U.S. Stance Roundly Rejected by Delegations to Bangkok
Population Conference”:

Read the actual Roe V. Wade decision:

Women’s Enews, January 15, 2003:
“Excerpts from Supreme Court Decision in Roe v. Wade”:

CORRECTION: In “Bush’s Anti-Choice Policies Felt Around World” (Jan. 20, 2002), Women’s Enews reported that the United States funds more than half of the Colombian group Profamilia’s annual budget. In fact, the United States provides 12 percent of the group’s annual budget. That money pays for all of Profamilia’s program providing sexual and reproductive health services for people displaced by Colombia’s internal violence.