June 30, 2003

The Bush Administration has stepped up its war against women, with remote, impoverished Nepal the epic center of the attack

"Over half of Nepal's women listed as maternal mortalities have died from unsafe abortions. This makes Nepal's the fourth highest maternal mortality rate in the world. But today, George W. Bush's anti-abortion crusade is directly connected with increasing the death rate among the women and girls in Nepal. "

Too many people are scared of "culture war" in the US. The Center and the Left should be looking for a "culture war," the Center and the Left should be spoiling for the fight. The _resident and his *constituency* in the Expanded Confederacy are outside the mainstream on so many of these issues. If we have a "culture war," we may avoid outright civil war down the road...


The Bush Administration has stepped up its war against women, with remote, impoverished Nepal the epic center of the attack. By Frederick Sweet

Over half of Nepal's women listed as maternal mortalities have died from unsafe abortions. This makes Nepal's the fourth highest maternal mortality rate in the world. But today, George W. Bush's anti-abortion crusade is directly connected with increasing the death rate among the women and girls in Nepal. By contrast, officials at the Nepalese Ministry of Health had recently concluded that legalizing abortion in Nepal is the first step towards reducing the country's maternal mortality.

More than three decades ago, the United States helped Nepal reverse its climbing maternal mortality rates through the Agency for International Development. In part, the USAID got everyone started in family planning in Nepal 35 years ago. But now, under pressure from the religious right, Washington has even cut funding for condoms, jeopardizing Nepal’s family planning and also the success of the much ballyhooed US anti-AIDs campaign.

Bush Revitalizes Reagan's Anti-Abortion Legacy

In the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan, influenced by anti-abortion fundamentalist Christians of the Religious Right, funds were withheld from foreign family planning agencies. The Reagan gag rule barred health providers from counseling women on abortion or providing abortions even with the organizations’ own funds. But in 1993, the Clinton government reversed the gag rule and restored family planning funding to the United Nations. Finally, in 1994, the declaration at the International Conference on Population in Cairo was ratified by 179 countries to help promote the campaign for women's reproductive rights. Not only had the aims of the UN Conference been endorsed by Clinton but Vice President Al Gore spoke at the opening plenary to pledge US support worldwide for women's rights.

On George W. Bush's very first day in office in 2000, he reimposed the Reagan gag rule. The Bush anti-abortion policy also withdrew $34 million from the United Nations family planning program, and at every international meeting on such issues the United States delegation lobbies against women's rights.

Today, under George W. Bush, the US is involved in what a recent New York Times editorial called: A War Against Women. In condemning Bush’s gag rule, the Times charged that it shows a disdain for freedom of speech to emerging democracies, while crippling the international family planning programs that work to prevent hundreds of thousands of infant and maternal deaths worldwide each year, adding that most Americans would be shocked at the length American representatives are going in their international war against women’s right to control their bodies.

In March, scores of prominent Third World health care leaders from every continent, but mainly Africa, sent Bush a letter that begged him to reverse his gag rule policies from the United States' new AIDs prevention initiative:

... The women who become infected and die of AIDS are the same women who at different times in their lives and under different personal circumstances may seek to have healthy pregnancies, may experience unintended pregnancies, may undergo unsafe abortions when they decide they cannot carry a pregnancy to term, or may die in childbirth. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives. They are sometimes engaged in sex work as a matter of their very survival. They are often solely responsible for the health and well being of their children. They are the primary caretakers of family members affected by AIDS and other diseases. And they all leave behind increasing numbers of orphans.

But Bush plans to expand his global gag rule to HIV funding, disqualifying a large number of organizations -- especially family planning programs -- from delivering integrated HIV prevention services. Rather than saving lives, this policy will cost lives. Although their deaths could be prevented by humane and rational sex education and protection programs, very large numbers of women and girls not receiving proper sex education and protection will be condemned to infection, suffering, and premature death.

Why Is Nepal Unique?

Reversing 150 years of legal discrimination against women, Nepal’s Lower House of Parliament passed an amendment to the Civil Code that legalizes abortion. On September 26, 2002, King Gyanendra of Nepal signed the 11th Amendment Bill, officially legalizing abortion and bringing about sweeping changes in many other laws discriminatory against women. Today, abortion is legal in Nepal under certain conditions: upon request during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when a woman’s life or health is in danger, and in cases of rape, incest, and fetal impairment.

In Nepal, one in five women in prison had been jailed for having an abortion. Until 2002, abortion was illegal in every circumstance. Nepal’s government has been taking action to release those women.

Melissa Upreti, legal adviser for the Center for Reproductive Rights' Asian Program, recently declared Nepal’s brutal abortion law is now history, but the fate of those women imprisoned for abortion is unclear. Upreti added, Women’s equality under the law requires the government to take action and end this great injustice of imprisoning women for [undergoing] abortion.

Also in March 2002, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Forum for Women, Law and Development of Nepal released a report Abortion in Nepal: Women Imprisoned, documenting the human rights abuses resulting from Nepal’s draconian anti-abortion law. The report featured stories of some of the women in prison, many of whom are serving life sentences imposed without any opportunity to obtain lawyers to defend themselves in court.

Recently, the Family Planning Association of Nepal has had to make the difficult decision to refuse USAID family planning funds because of the restrictions it places on them by the Bush administration. This will lead to the loss of nearly $250,000 of U.S. funds and seriously undermine the continued operation of three reproductive health clinics in some of the country's most densely populated areas. It brings to an end a continuous relationship with US AID that lasted for over 26 years.

Dr. Nirmal K. Bista, director general of the Family Planning Association (FPAN) of Nepal said, "If we were to accept the restricted U.S. funds I would be prevented from speaking in my own country to my own government about a health care crisis I know first hand. Bista added, The ministry's advocacy plan decriminalizing abortion calls for the formation of a network of non-governmental organizations. Yet the U.S. government would disqualify us from participating in this public awareness and lobbying campaign or give up badly needed funding for family planning and other reproductive health services. My own government wants FPAN to help decriminalize abortion and make it safer but the U.S. government says no. Advocate to save women's lives and you lose your U.S. funds. "

Holding USAID Hostage

In the February issue of The Nation, Jennifer Block, in her article, Christian Soldiers on the March, writes that threats had been made by the U.S. to withhold their piece of USAID funding to Nepal and other individual countries if they didn't vote along with the U.S. delegation against abortion and in support of Bush's gag rule. They were trying to push some governments around pretty hard," said one United Nations official.

At the UN Special Session on Children in New York City, the U.S. delegation led by Bush's Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson formed an unholy alliance with Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan and Iraq in the midst of Bush's with us or against us declaration of war on Islamic fundamentalists. Together, with the Vatican, they fought to purge the world of comprehensive sex education for adolescents, restrict STD-prevention and contraceptive information to heterosexual married couples, and redefine "reproductive health services" by excluding legal abortion.

Françoise Girard of the International Women's Health Coalition said, This is the fringe who've taken over U.S. policy on sexual and reproductive health. Girard added, "Some people asked me, ‘Do you think they're doing this because they want to save our souls?’

The numbers of women and girls dying from AIDs will continue to climb in Nepal and in most other Third World countries because of Bush administration policies. Each day, at least six women die in Nepal from unsafe abortions performed by unskilled providers. But Bush's gag rule for mainstream health care workers and withholding of urgently needed U.S. funds from the anti-AIDs campaign guarantee that these death sentences for women along with the maternal mortality figures will continue to rise in Nepal and other Third World countries.

Posted by richard at June 30, 2003 10:13 AM