President-Elect Obama has not been inaugurated yet and, already, he’s taken some critical steps towards restoring the United States as a leader in global women’s health.
In the nine days since he won the election, Obama has prioritized these global reproductive and sexual health mandates:
Promised to rescind the Global Gag Rule – President-Elect Obama recently announced that he would overturn the executive order, originally put in place by President Ronald Reagan, that forbids overseas family planning and reproductive health centers that receive any U.S. funds from discussing abortion services with patients, lobbying for legal abortion, referring for abortion or in any way mentioning abortion. The Global Gag Rule restricts free speech in ways that are completely and wholly unconstitutional in this country and, during President Clinton’s presidency, was rescinded.
Committed to restoring UNFPA funding – UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund works in over 150 poor countries promoting voluntary family planning in order to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, elevate women’s status and improve women’s health and lives. President Bush has withheld millions of dollars from UNFPA over the last seven years, despite that fact that every year Congress has approved funding for the agency, because he believes (though it has been proven otherwise through independent and government reporting) the funding supports coercive abortion policies in China. President-Elect Obama will, according to Rep. Carolyn Maloney, lift the freeze on global family planning upon taking office.
Examining the Abstinence-Only Requirement In PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) – We have covered the passage of PEPFAR this year in detail, especially focused on the ideologically-based mandates that force regional programs in other countries to prioritize abstinence-only programs in order to receive a portion of U.S. funds for HIV prevention. Despite the fact that regional health care programs, staffers on the ground, and care providers likely know which HIV prevention methods will work best, President Bush ordered that 33% of HIV prevention funds go towards ideologically based abstinence only programs in other countries. It’s a mandate that President Obama seems poised to overturn. According to Susan Wood, Obama’s co-chair for women’s health advisement, "We have been going in the wrong direction and we need to
turn it around and be promoting prevention and family-planning
services and strengthening public health."
An article in a UK publication, Pink News, today cited comments from various groups on the ways in which the abstinence-only earmark has seriously impeded their efforst to fight HIV on the ground:
A 2006 report from the US General Accountability Office (GAO) found
that seventeen of the twenty countries surveyed reported that the
abstinence earmark "challenges their ability to develop interventions
that are responsive to local epidemiology and social norms."