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U.S. Hit on AIDS, Women's Health

September 03, 2004|John Daniszewski | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — Organizations concerned with reproductive health and sexual education sharply criticized the Bush administration Thursday, saying that its policies are contributing to the AIDS pandemic and the deaths of women during childbirth and from unsafe abortions.

The criticism came on the final day of the three-day Countdown 2015 conference in London. About 700 representatives of governments and groups from 109 countries gathered to assess progress toward goals set in 1994 at a U.N. conference on population growth and development in Cairo.

The administration's denial of funding to groups such as the U.N. Population Fund and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, and the pressure it has put on other countries to not cooperate with organizations that advocate or provide access to legal abortion, have had a "chilling effect" globally, said Steven Sinding, director-general of the IPPF.

"In a reversal of its historic role, my own country has emerged as one of the most significant obstacles to progress," said Sinding, an American. "This insidious war on women's health and rights is threatening some of the very real progress that has been made during the last decade."

Two years ago, President Bush launched a $15-billion plan to fight AIDS, the most money spent by a government. But activists have criticized restrictions that designate one-third of the HIV-prevention funds for sexual abstinence programs.

Marcella Howell, director of Washington-based Advocates for Youth, accused the administration of burying its head in the sand by promoting an "ideologically driven abstinence-only until marriage program that leaves young people with little information" to prevent unwanted pregnancy and AIDS.

Randall Tobias, the U.S. global AIDS coordinator, said at a July conference in Bangkok, Thailand, that the White House approach was fair and focused on "A-B-C": abstinence, being faithful and condom use -- in that order.

"Abstinence works. Being faithful works. Condoms work," he said. "Each has its place."

The 1994 Cairo conference is considered a milestone in the drive to control population growth. Nearly 180 nations adopted a plan that moved the focus from reducing birthrates to education and better conditions for women, as well as free access to birth control and reproductive health services.

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