Salon.com, October 4, 2004
The Sacrificial Lambs
To satisfy the religious right,
George W. Bush has punished the most vulnerable
-- millions of women and girls from the world's
Oct. 4, 2004 | The Bible makes many references
to the use of "sacrificial lambs,"
young animals offered up to God to atone for
the sins of the people. You may have thought
this practice had fallen out of favor, but
it seems George W. Bush has resurrected the
sacrificing of the innocent to atone for his
However, his offerings are disproportionately
of one gender: girls and women from the planet's
poorest nations. By his decision to cancel
aid for three years in a row to the U.N. Population
Fund (UNFPA), which supports the reproductive
health rights of women around the world, he
has willingly sacrificed millions of innocent
female lives. This was made abundantly clear
by global healthcare professionals at the recent
Countdown 2015 conference in London, which
examined the progress of the U.N.'s watershed
Cairo summit on population and development
One of Bush's first acts as president was to
begin his political payback to the religious
right, which helped him win the White House,
by going after the UNFPA. Bush immediately
cut off funding that had been appropriated
by both houses of Congress -- money the UNFPA
used to pay for birth control, prenatal care,
pap smears, mammograms and AIDS prevention
programs. As recently as July 15 of this year,
Bush announced he would hold back $34 million
in U.S. funding earmarked for these programs.
But one wonders if Mr. Compassionate Conservative,
as Bush labeled himself in the 2000 campaign,
is capable of looking beyond the currying of
right-wing votes to consider the magnitude
of his choices -- to understand that women
will give birth to babies they can't afford
to feed, mothers the age of Laura Bush will
die in childbirth, family matriarchs the age
of Barbara Bush will die from undiagnosed breast
cancer, and daughters the same age as his twins
will contract HIV/AIDS.
The administration's excuse is that the UNFPA
supports coercive abortion policies in China.
But just as the Bush administration's "intelligence"
first found -- then couldn't find -- weapons
of mass destruction in Iraq, the president
seems equally (or conveniently) confused about
the UNFPA. After an investigation, even the
president's own advisors reported that UNFPA
did not support or participate in China's abortion
policy and recommended he restore their funding.
Today, on the U.S. State Department's own Web
site, you get two conflicting opinions. Spokesman
Richard Boucher defends Bush's edict: "We
have continuously called on China to end its
program of coercive abortion. We also have
repeatedly urged China and the UN Population
Fund to restructure the organization's programs
in a way that would allow the United States
to provide funding. We will continue these
consultations. However, since no key changes
have taken place, these restrictions are being
Another page on the same government Web site/sings
a different tune. "Background Note: China,"
compiled by the State Department's Bureau of
East Asian and Pacific Affairs, states: "Recent
international efforts, including those funded
by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), are demonstrating
to government officials that a voluntary, non-coercive
approach to family planning can be effective
in promoting sustainable population growth."
Stirling Scruggs, a native Tennessean who was
UNFPA's representative to China for three years,
had intimate knowledge of the agency's policies.
He reports: "I worked hard promoting human
rights when I was in China, as did my predecessors
and as my successor does today. And there have
been significant positive changes. Engagement
works. It is very sad to me, though, that my
own government chooses to punish women around
the world to placate a small minority of fundamentalists
who use disinformation to pursue their own
ideological agenda." Never mind that Bush's
decision will decrease access to family planning,
which will eventually result in thousands of
the abortions he claims to abhor.
Ironically, the president seems to have forgotten
that UNFPA was launched in 1969 with strong
support from the United States, led by then-U.N.
Ambassador George H.W. Bush. Ever his own man,
however, Bush the son has ignored this fact,
along with his mother's pro-choice stance.
But if the younger Bush is really so outraged
by China's abortion policy, why doesn't he
apply economic sanctions against the Chinese
instead of denying aid to millions of poor
women in China and elsewhere around the world
from Honduras to Chad?
Republican Rep. Christopher Smith of New Jersey,
chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, even went
so far as to claim that the UNFPA "has
been the willing 'enabler' of massive human
rights violations." The United Nations
has been accused of many things, but not usually
of human rights violations -- even by the Bush
administration. Organizations like Planned
Parenthood, NOW and Ms. magazine have been
quick to defend UNFPA and to condemn Bush's
need to thrust his political policies into
wombs around the world.
And, of course, the controversy has become an
election issue. Democrats like New York Rep.
Carolyn Maloney have publicly criticized Bush's
stance, saying, "Once again, it's the
U.S. against the world -- only the U.S. is
withholding funds. Our country's credibility
is lying on the floor. I don't think women
can handle much more of this president's 'compassionate
conservatism.'" And Democratic presidential
nominee John Kerry vows that "As president,
I will restore U.S. funding to the United Nations
Population Fund and reassert America's leadership
in the fight for women's health."
Thoraya Obaid, executive director of UNFPA, confirms
that the U.S. position is indeed an anomaly.
"Many nations have stepped up their funding
in clear defiance of Bush. In fact 147 member
nations have contributed a record amount to
the agency." Once again, the U.S. stands
alone with its isolationist foreign policy.
Even a war-torn Afghanistan donated $100 to
UNFPA, which is -- yes, it's humiliating --
$100 more than the richest country on earth
But as Dr. Nafis Sadik, former head of UNFPA
pointed out, the women suffering most from
Bush's policies have little power to fight
back. "Politically, this is an easy move
for the Bush administration," she said.
"The women in those developing countries
don't vote in U.S. elections." But American
women do, and come Nov. 2, we have the opportunity
to make sure there are no more sacrificial
ewes on the altar of Bush's right-wing agenda.
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