Twenty members of Congress have sent a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell calling on the Bush administration to abandon plans to extend the so-called Mexico City policy, which prevents U.S. funds from going to any international group linked with abortion services, to Bush's new five-year, $15 billion global HIV/AIDS initiative. The policy, so named because it was adopted by former president Ronald Reagan at a conference in Mexico City in 1984, bars U.S. money from going to any international groups that support abortion, even with their own money, through direct services, counseling, or lobbying activities. The policy was rescinded by President Clinton in 1993, but Bush revived it just days after his inauguration in 2001.
The lawmakers have joined with AIDS experts and activists in expressing their concern that the policy is harmful to international AIDS efforts because many overseas agencies offer a wide range of family planning services alongside HIV and other sexually transmitted disease prevention and treatment programs. This would automatically exempt them from receiving the new HIV/AIDS funds. The letter states that if the Administration were to apply the policy to Bush's new international AIDS initiative, it would be "a very grave and costly mistake." It goes on to say, "Such a policy will not only contrast sharply with existing international practices but will also make authorization of a comprehensive global AIDS bill in Congress a difficult proposition and will further complicate the consideration of the fiscal year 2004 Foreign Operations bill--thus delaying the rapid disbursement of these much needed funds."
It's not clear whether Bush will continue to endorse the restrictive policy. Reports have surfaced claiming that the Administration plans to continue to apply the Mexico City policy to its new HIV/AIDS initiative, while others indicate that Bush has decided to be more permissive when funding overseas HIV/AIDS programs. There has been no official word from the White House on which course Bush will take. The Administration also has not yet responded to the letter from the members of Congress.
The lawmakers who signed the letter to Powell include Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), the only out lesbian in Congress, as well as her House colleagues Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Joe Hoeffel (D-Pa.), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Tex.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Donald Payne (D-N.J.), Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.), Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Fortney Stark (D-Calif.), Pete DeFazio (D-Ore.), William Pascrell (D-N.J.), Howard Berman (D-Calif.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).