US policy jeopardising women's health, says report

US foreign aid policy on abortion is jeopardising women's health by cutting access to family planning assistance and information on HIV/AIDS, says a report published in Kenya on Thursday.

Under the Mexico City Policy, commonly known as the "global gag rule", the US government does not provide funding for NGOs involved in abortion, referral advice, counselling, or lobbying activities to make the practice legal.

But the same NGOs often offer essential family planning and health services, as well as giving out contraception and information about HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases (STIs).

In Kenya, two leading family planning organisations have had to close five of their clinics since the policy was introduced two years ago, and cut staff by up to 30 percent, says the collaborative report entitled "Access Denied: US Restrictions on International Family Planning".

Three of the clinics were run by the Family Planning Association of Kenya (FPAK) and offered pre-and post-natal obstetric care, as well as child health care to mothers, it said. One of the clinics was in a slum area of Nairobi, where no government-run clinics are in existence.

Marie Stopes International, which offers malaria treatment, screening for cervical cancer, infant and child health care, immunisations and HIV/AIDS, had to close its Mathare Valley clinic in another slum area of Nairobi, which was the only health facility for 300,000 people, according to the report. The second Stopes clinic to close down offered advice on HIV/AIDS and STIs in Kisumu, which has Kenya's highest incidence of HIV.

"I think the Americans are running away from their responsibility," said the director of one prominent Kenyan NGO. "How do Americans talk about equality of women and run away from reproductive health? The gag rule has made women suffer. The gag rule has made more women die, because they can't access safe family planning."

"This is the real fact 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," said Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Gloria Feldt. "America can and must do better than that."

[To access the report click here: www.globalgagrule.org]