Monday, June 25, 2007

In a Renewed Commitment to Fight Against HIV/AIDS, Congress Rethinks the Mexico City Policy

In May of this year, President Bush urged Congress to commit to providing an additional $30 billion dollars to a 5-year campaign against AIDS in Africa that was initiated in 2003. Now, upon the heels of this proposal, comes an additional measure, just approved by members of the House of Representatives, to rescind a contraception-aid ban that is more than two decades old: The Mexico City Policy.

Known more commonly as the Global Gag Rule by its opponents, the Mexico City Policy is a 1984 initiative of late President Ronald Reagan, named after the city in which the plan was unveiled. The policy forbids the allocation of any funding from the United States government to international NGOs that promote abortion as an option of family planning, meaning that many organizations, including international affiliates of Planned Parenthood, are not eligible for government funding, despite the significant strides they have made in the global movement to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS by way of safe sex education. Many proponents of the policy object to the funneling of taxpayers’ money to causes to which they morally object. However, considering the centrality of the value of life to the religious convictions of far right-wing Christian conservatives, many of whom have significantly contributed to the financial growth of Republican Party since the 1970s, their support of the Mexico City Policy, but limited objections to war, police brutality, or environmental injustice seems empty and hypocritical.

Bearing this in mind, it comes as a relief that lawmakers are somewhat replacing the Religious Right’s message of “life” with their own. The reversal of the policy (which was rescinded by President Bill Clinton, then reinstated by President George W. Bush in 2001) marks a return to focusing on what could be considered a highly utilitarian act. While the opinions and beliefs of conservative religious groups within this country are, no doubt, significant, it seems unfair to base a decision to withhold financial support from organizations who could do (and have done) a great deal of work restoring the quality of life in other parts of the world on the convictions of a small group of people that is, quite frankly, far removed from the tragic reality of the AIDS epidemic. Considering the unspeakable amount of money that is wasted in this country, particularly on initiatives that do little to promote the welfare of the American public, our allies, or the countries to which we have promised aid, there is no question to the priority of reviewing all available options in order to combat what has become a leading cause of death on the African continent. By returning our focus to the millions of lives that can be saved by funding additional highly qualified and experienced organizations to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS, the House of Representatives have catalyzed what many Democrats, women’s rights activists, and healthcare professionals consider America’s re-entry into a state of reality.

President Bush is expected to veto the bill, not only on account of his own personal views on abortion, but also in order to send a message to his religious base that he respects their continued support. Despite the possibility of a veto, however, members of the House remain hopeful. Many optimistically note that at least addressing the issue will re-open the debate surrounding the allocation of U.S. aid to global crises and the initiation of more effective measures to contribute to AIDS prevention and treatment. If the bill passes uninterrupted, however, its success will need to be measured by more than simple legislative “victory.” Considering the cultural divide between many inhabitants in Sub-Saharan African nations and those who contribute the most funding to the AIDS epidemic, several obstacles continue to impede a struggle against time as the virus spreads, including, though not limited to, a reluctance to publicly discuss sex, myths surrounding HIV/AIDS contraction and treatment, and a possible distrust of and/or discomfort with members of the medical community, in particular those who are non-African. There is far more to handling this crisis than sending money here or condoms there. The most successful examples of commitment happen on the ground. Hopefully, whether the bill clears or not, decision-makers in D.C. will not lose site of this reality.

For more information on the “Global Gag Rule,” check out this site: “Access Denied” (

-Wendi Muse


Rodrigo said...

Oi, achei teu blog pelo google tá bem interessante gostei desse post. Quando der dá uma passada pelo meu blog, é sobre camisetas personalizadas, mostra passo a passo como criar uma camiseta personalizada bem maneira. Até mais.

Wendi Muse said...

obrigada (pra ler nosso blog). espero que voce tenha sorte com seu trabalho de vender camisetas. tchau! ~Wendi

Sewere said...

I know I say this all the time Wendi, but your writing is always on point and a pleasure to read.

I worked with Dr. Orero in Kenya on Post-Abortion Care program and I have to tell you that was a defining moment in my life. I used to be passive about the legalization of abortion because I foolishly believed most governments in developing countries didn't have the wherewithal to police women. But then I realized that making abortion illegal made it illegal to train all but specialists in providing abortions which in turn meant that even regular physicians who didn't know shit about the procedure would abuse their position as caregivers to perform abortions that would invariably lead to complications because of lack of training. Shit happens to you when your male privilege glares you in the face as you sit in one to many exam rooms trying to calm a teenage girl who was abandoned after getting pregnant by a boyfriend (a term I use loosely because in most cases the dude is an older man who refused to wear a condom).

I came to the realization that making abortion illegal was part and parcel of reducing women's access to much needed reproductive health. Ever since then my charge as a public health professional has been to provide all the support I can to ensure that organizations that provide reproductive health care are able to continue providing care to women AND men.