Features

Abortion imperialism

International | Nonprofits export birth-control and abortion policy with the blessing and funding of the U.S. government

Issue: "Roe vs. Wade 25," Jan. 17, 1998

No matter the direction of prevailing political winds, non-profit organizations enjoy an almost unbroken flow of federal funds to controversial family-planning programs abroad. An effort by congressional leaders last year to bar U.S. foreign aid and UN funding from groups that promote abortion did nothing to slow them down.

Latest among the efforts to control population is a push to make abortion available in refugee camps, even if that means violating laws restricting abortion in the country where the camps are located. Members of a UN-sponsored "working group on reproductive health," organized after the UN's Cairo Conference on Population Control, are expected to finish a manual later this month titled "Reproductive Health in Refugee Camps."

Drafts of the manual have been circulating for over a year in Washington and Geneva, headquarters of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Pro-life groups are sounding alarm bells about at least two proposed guidelines in the manual. One would allow camp medical personnel to distribute what the manual calls "emergency post-coital contraception," more commonly known as morning-after pills. The manual writers deny that the pills act as abortifacients, relying on a World Health Organization definition that pregnancy begins at implantation rather than conception. The pill supposedly works prior to implantation of a fertilized egg.

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Another guideline concerns the use of manual vacuum aspirators. The size of a large syringe, this non-electric version of the vacuum aspirators found in abortion clinics is cited as necessary equipment to deal with miscarriages or complications with expelling afterbirth tissue in the camps.

The handheld devices are gaining popularity in the United States among abortion providers as a way to perform the procedure earlier in pregnancy (see cover story, page 12). The technique, which suctions the tiny gestational sac from the uterus in a matter of minutes, was devised by the medical director at Planned Parenthood in Houston. International Planned Parenthood Federation is among the groups lobbying the UNHCR to include the aspirator in medical equipment for the refugee camps.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the House subcommittee on human rights, met with the high commissioner, Sadako Ogata, last month to raise concern about the potential for world-body support of abortion in the refugee camps. But he is in a delicate position, according to human-rights subcommittee chief counsel Joseph Rees: "[Mr. Smith] is pro-refugee, and he doesn't want to get into a position where people will overreact and cut off funding for refugees."

Already the morning-after pills have been made available to refugees, reportedly rape victims, in camps bordering Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), where rape has been a prevalent problem. At a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, at least 30 refugees also have been given kits containing the pills. They, too, were rape victims, but even so, according to a nurse who spoke with Mr. Rees at the camp in Dadaab, several of the women said they would not take the pill.

At the time of Mr. Rees's visit, the camp in Kenya had run out of vegetable oil, reflecting "the skewed priority," he said, of forcing contraception on people who've lost their homes, their livelihoods, and perhaps their families.

"When they are faced with malnutrition, quality of shelter problems, violence, and sometimes forced repatriation, this should be way down on the list," he told WORLD.

Mr. Rees, who has visited nearly 20 refugee camps, says he does not think abortions are taking place in the camps now. Combining the tools to perform them with the high-stress environment of the camp, however, is a potent prescription for coercing the poorest of the poor into having them.

Many of the largest nonprofits peddling contraceptives or pushing abortion overseas derive nearly all their operating revenue from grants and contracts from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). They make up the rest with money from the United Nations Population Control Fund (UNFPA) or World Bank loans. They are staffed by former USAID employees. And when USAID or a UN agency convenes one of its many "working groups" on family planning, those officers are often called to serve as "private sector advisors." From plush office-park settings among pharmaceutical giants outside Raleigh, N.C., and Boston to downtown cubbyholes in Third World capitals like Nairobi and Istanbul, these multinationals blend humanitarian rhetoric and big business into a sophisticated brand of corporate welfare.

One of the biggest, Family Health International, is based outside Raleigh. It is the government's largest condom distributor (the federal government sends 1 billion condoms overseas each year) and also conducts research and development for intrauterine devices and other contraceptives. FHI obtains all but $2 1/2 million of its $69 million-a-year budget from the federal government. USAID contributes $63 million in grants and contracts.

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