Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Fundamentalists Without Borders

It's painful enough that those of us believing in compassion and reason are forced to witness our country being dragged back into the 13th century by medieval religious literalism. But when we start exporting the madness to other nations, that's when the shame and humiliation really sets in. President Bush, in yet another gross display of inhumanity, expanded the "gag rule" on USAID funds, effectively exporting his conservative religious dementia to some other nations where it can do substantial damage.

From ACSBlog:

Under the Global Gag Rule, which has been in effect since January 2001, family planning funds administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) may be transferred only to foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that pledge that they will not use any of their non-U.S. funds to provide abortion-related activities, including providing information about abortion through counseling or advocacy.

Essentially, not only can these organizations not use U.S. funds for such, but they must pledge to not use ANY funds they receive for abortion-related program activities. The tragic part is that USAID is very influential in poorer nations, particularly those where women are still second-class citizen.

The gag rule will affect a $193 million, five-year project for AIDS-HIV prevention programs in Kenya and requires organizations that seek funding to adhere to the administration's policy that the health organization not provide abortions, provide any information about safe abortions to women or lobby for change in their nation's abortion laws. In Kenya, complications from illegal abortions are a leading killer of married women in their 20s and 30s.

So much for being "Pro-life". That sort of rhetoric may soothe the conservative plebes back here in Gilead, but it's directly endangering the lives of women in countries that we're supposed to be aiding. What possible sense does it make to spend millions on AIDS/HIV prevention and treatment while all the while turning a blind eye to abortion complications that are killing thousands of women? It doesn't, unless viewed through the crooked lens of patriarchal religious fundamentalism, which attaches a sort of moral substance to inflicting suffering on women via religious strictures. It's nothing more than a spiteful poke at the legality of abortion in the United States, which, despite their best efforts, conservatives have yet to abolish. Sadly, no such rights exist for the women of Kenya, who are often at the mercy of the kind of patriarchal dominance for which American conservatives pine away.

Even more egregious, PEPFAR (The President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief) has had other religiously-motivated restrictions placed on its funds.

For example, one-third of PEPFAR prevention funds had to be spent on "abstinence/be faithful" youth programs, even though Kenya's AIDS Control Program promotes "abstain, be faithful, or use condoms" (known as "ABC") messages. Last year, 11 faith-based organizations, some with no prior youth health experience, were awarded about $1 million each to engage in abstinence-only campaigns in Kenya.

It's almost unthinkable that Federal Government funds are being awarded to unqualified "faith-based" (another code word for "conservative Christian") organizations to push an abstinence-only ideology which is a proven failure in the United States. It's an embarrassment to our reputation in the world that our President cannot be relied upon to use sound judgment and science to guide government policy. Rather, every motion our government takes must now be governed by the over-arching goal of advocating conservative Christian moral stances.

Our Constitution does not end at our borders, else it is a very provincial and inadequate document. The ideals that the United States was founded upon, religious freedom being foremost among them, were written as applicable to the entirety of mankind. The very idea of "America" is eroded when we treat residence in the United States as a special condition to be met in order to enjoy the human rights upon which our nation stood, prior to the second Bush Presidency. The very notion that the United States is using adherence to fundamentalist religious ideology as a condition for receiving medical aid is cruel and un-American. Such "aid" is really no comfort at all.

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