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Group assails Bush order

Global women’s forum focuses on reproductive rights

A global women's issues panel at the UNM Law School Tuesday raised lingering concerns about President George W. Bush's recent action on reproductive rights.

The order, signed during the elder Bush's administration and suspended when Bill Clinton was elected, blocks U.S. funds for groups that provide abortions and counseling internationally.

Audience members called the policy a "global gag rule," and it is also known as the Mexico City Policy.

"It is my conviction that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or actively promote

abortion, either here or abroad," Bush stated in a press release Jan. 22. "It is therefore my belief that the Mexico City Policy should be restored."

Michele Guttman, a consultant attorney for the International Programs Division of the National Center for State Courts, said the order has already taken effect in many countries, leaving groups floundering for support.

Guttman worked in Peru with a pro-choice women's organization receiving foreign money from not only the United States, but all over Europe as well.

She said the organization is the only group working with indigenous women in Peru, who suffer from high maternal death rates in both illegal abortions and child birth, but uses the U.S. funding for a program to support women in politics.

"We were promoting women getting in on the campaign trail and holding office," she said.

Guttman said the women in the organization were dismayed because they needed U.S. funding, but knew Peruvian women are suffering from disease, so they could not sign the paper in good conscience.

She said Bush's order has left the organization almost helpless and will likely do the same to other groups.

"These organizations are going to be completely shut down by these restrictions," Guttman said.

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Jennifer Moore, a UNM law professor, said she thought it was a ironic that the United States would "demonize" countries that have extreme policies of disrespect toward women, then turn around and make the same kind of policy.

"I think the policy is terrible," she said.

Michelle Featcheringille, chief executive officer of Albuquerque's Planned Parenthood, said she believes the impact will be devastating, but added that one way to deal with the problem is to correct misinformation about funding.

She said many pro-choice people think that U.S. tax dollars are being spent internationally on abortions, which is not true. She said anyone who accepts U.S. money on behalf of family planning efforts is restricted from having any conversation about abortion.

"They cannot use the word abortion, they cannot refer to someone else who could be a resource around abortion, they cannot be pro-choice," Featcheringille said "It's the most restrictive thing I've ever seen in my entire life and it's absolutely insane."

The panel members also addressed current conditions for women in other countries in South America and the Middle East.

Charlie Clement, former president of Physicians for Human Rights, talked about the oppressive conditions for women in Afghanistan.

Clement said that under the Taliban movement, 77 percent of women have no access to health care, 53 percent are seriously ill, 28 percent have no reproductive control and 42 percent meet the criteria to be diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome.

"When the Taliban took over, they moved quickly to prohibit women from attending school and there is no education past the age of eight today," he said.

Clements said Afghanistan women also cannot work, often leaving them helpless because more than 30,000 of the women are widows.

He said international aid is going to Afghanistan, but progress is very slow and conditions are not likely to improve any time soon.

Clements added that it is not a hopeless struggle.

The discussion, which was sponsored by Planned Parenthood, also featured Selena Sermeno, a psychologist who works in the United States and El Salvador.

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