On Thursday, attendees at Countdown 2015, a conference in London focused on sexual and reproductive health and rights, say the Bush administration's international policies are leading to the spread of HIV among women around the world and also are causing increases in childbirth- and abortion-related deaths, the Los Angeles Times reports. The conference was held to mark the 10-year anniversary of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, at which 179 countries approved a plan to improve the reproductive health and rights of women throughout the world.
Conference attendees say the Bush administration in thwarting those goals by withholding funding from the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the United Nations Population Fund because of Bush's requirement that no U.S. funds go to any agency that provides abortion information or services. Bush announced in July that he would withhold $34 million in UNFPA funding for the third consecutive year. Health advocates say that money could have prevented as many as 2 million unplanned pregnancies, nearly 800,000 abortions, and countless HIV infections. Bush's push for abstinence-only HIV prevention education around the world also drew fire from conference attendees, who said scientific data shows abstinence education is ineffective in reducing HIV and sexually transmitted disease levels and doesn't take into account cultural differences around the world.
IPPF director-general Steven Sinding says Bush's policies are a "global gag rule that stifles the free speech of health care providers who try to help women in the poorest countries decide how to deal with unwanted pregnancies." Former U.S. senator Timothy Wirth, who is now president of the United Nations Foundation as well as the Better World Campaign, says, "We were once a beacon of hope. To watch this erode so dramatically in the last few years where the United States is now part of what one of our colleagues has called the axis of bigotry, it's just extraordinary to me. We used to be such a force for good, and we have now become this reactionary force around the world."