- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

A Bush administration decision to provide funding from an expanded AIDS program to overseas clinics that also promote abortion has roiled both sides in the long-standing battle over abortion policy.
To pro-life forces, the decision overturns an effort going back to the Reagan administration to deny U.S. taxpayer funds to organizations that fund or promote abortions overseas, such as Planned Parenthood.
"This is not acceptable to us," said Connie Mackey, vice president of government relations for the pro-life Family Research Council.
But pro-choice groups are upset that groups accepting the funds will be prohibited from discussing abortion with patients while carrying out AIDS counseling funded by the United States. Such groups are calling the plan "expensive, unwelcome and immoral."
The new plan grows out of the "Mexico City" policy first declared by President Reagan at a 1984 U.N. conference in that city which bars U.S. taxpayer money from going to groups that fund or promote abortion overseas.
Derided as a "global gag rule" by its critics, the policy was repealed by President Clinton only to be reinstated by President Bush on his first day in office.
The policy again came under review when administration officials began looking at how to implement a request in Mr. Bush's State of the Union speech asking Congress for $15 billion over five years for AIDS treatment and prevention in Africa and the Caribbean.
A Feb. 11 State Department memo recommended that the new AIDS money be permitted to go to abortion providers as long as the AIDS work was kept strictly separate from the groups' abortion work. Health care practitioners receiving the AIDS money would thus be prohibited from discussing abortion while providing AIDS counseling.
Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for global affairs, confirmed at a public forum last week that groups that lost funding when Mr. Bush reinstated the Mexico City policy could now apply for new funding to work with AIDS/HIV.
"Can anyone apply? Yes. They can apply even if they are noncompliant with Mexico City," she said during the forum on AIDS in Africa at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The money is intended for programs relevant to HIV. They cannot use the money for abortion-related activities."
That fails to satisfy some pro-life leaders such as Mrs. Mackey of the Family Research Council. "Planned Parenthood and organizations like that will have one side of the hall for abortions and the other side of the hall for counseling," she said.
The scheme was criticized from the other side in a Feb. 26 letter to Mr. Bush from a group of 130 organizations dealing with HIV/AIDS, ranging from gay and lesbian groups to abortion counseling services.
"Any such restrictions can only impede progress in the battle against HIV/AIDS and erode the good will generated by the administration's renewed commitment to funding HIV/AIDS programs," said the letter.
The pro-life caucus in the House discussed the issue during a Republican retreat in western Virginia two weeks ago, and while uneasy with the new policy, most appeared willing to go along with the president's plan.
Illinois Rep. Henry J. Hyde, one of the House's most ardent pro-life members, told the caucus the problem of AIDS "is real. It is urgent," according to another congressional Republican who asked not to be identified.
This source said Mr. Hyde, an Illinois Republican and chairman of the House International Relations Committee, called the new policy "a leap of trust and a matter of concern."
But, the source said, "Most pro-life conservatives take the president at his word that there will be mechanisms in place, a firewall" to make sure U.S. money is not used to promote abortion.
Pro-choice family-planning groups argue there is no way that counseling on women's reproductive health including abortion counseling can be compartmentalized from HIV/AIDS counseling.
It is common in much of Africa that a rural health clinic may be the only health care provider for 100 miles, making it all but impossible to separate one type of health care from another, they say.
One health counselor at the CSIS meeting cited a 12-year-old girl who became pregnant and contracted HIV after being raped. Under the plan, she might have to go to separate facilities to deal with all aspects of her tragedy.
"The expansion policy will end up erecting walls rather than tearing them down," said Sally Ethelston, spokesperson for Population Action International. "It will further tie up an organization in red tape. Will there be separate accounts, separate clinics, separate staff?"

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