More than 130 nongovernmental groups have written a letter to President Bush to encourage the Administration not to apply "Mexico City" policy restrictions to newly pledged funds for international HIV/AIDS programs. The "Mexico City" policy, so named because it was first adopted by former president Ronald Reagan in 1984 at a population conference in Mexico City, bars any U.S. money from going to international groups that support abortion through direct services, counseling, or lobbying activities. Last week 20 members of Congress called on Secretary of State Colin Powell to urge Bush not to apply the restrictions to international AIDS funding.
The letter cites the World Health Organization's Global Sector Strategy for HIV/AIDS, which says existing family planning organizations worldwide, regardless of whether they provide abortion services, "provide a clear entry point for the delivery of HIV/AIDS interventions." The letter also points out that because resources in most developing nations are so scarce, HIV/AIDS services are routinely coupled with family planning programs and housed and handled by a single organization or clinic. This coupling of services is actually endorsed as a matter of good public health practice and economic efficiency by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Bank, and the European Union, the letter states.
Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for global affairs, told a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies last week that the "Mexico City" policy will not extend to groups applying for the AIDS funding as long as the organizations can guarantee that the money will not go toward any family planning programs that include information about abortion or provide abortion services, The Washington Times reports. But AIDS activists say that HIV/AIDS education is closely interwoven with reproductive health counseling in developing countries, with information about HIV and other sexually transmitted disease prevention typically provided along with information on condom use, other contraceptives, and abortion. To require the programs to separate HIV/AIDS education from these services in order to receive new AIDS funds from Washington would require bottom-up restructuring for many organizations, a task the groups can't afford.
Among the groups to sign the letter to Bush are: the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Psychological Association, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, the Council of Religious AIDS Networks, Dignity/USA, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, the Global AIDS Alliance, the Human Rights Campaign, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, the National Association of People With AIDS, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Presbyterian Church (USA) Washington, D.C., office, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, the Student Global AIDS Campaign, and the United Methodist Church's General Board of Church and Society.