Clinton calls for international family planning funding without restrictions
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bill Clinton urged Congress on Friday to restore U.S. funding for international family planning efforts without restrictions enacted during last year's federal budget battle -- saying that such restrictions "impose a destructive double-standard" on other nations.
As part of a deal last year to coax the Republican-controlled Congress into releasing $926 million in back payments to the United Nations, the Clinton Administration reluctantly accepted restrictions on $385 million in federal funds for international family planning groups that perform abortions or lobby foreign governments to liberalize abortion laws.
Speaking at the White House on Friday, Clinton said the restrictions would be unacceptable if another country tried to impose them on the United States.
"When would we ever accept rules telling Americans at home not to ever discuss women's health and women's choices, and how in the name of democracy and freedom can we impose those rules on others, which would be illegal in the United States," Clinton said. "That is not the American way."
In last year's compromise, Clinton negotiated the right to waive the ban in exchange for a slight reduction in funding of the overall budget for international family planning. The president waived the ban within hours of signing the budget last November, which allowed most of the $385 million for international family planning to move forward.
But congressional Democrats criticized the compromise, and the issue is likely to come up again when Congress debates the fiscal 2001 budget.
"Gag rules are enough to make you gag," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York). "In America, it's unconstitutional. Around the world, it's unconscionable."
In his fiscal 2001 budget proposal, Clinton wants Congress to fund $169 million in family planning assistance to the United States Agency for International Development, which would restore such funding to its 1995 level of $541.6 million. He also wants $25 million to support the UN Population Fund.
Anti-abortion Republicans in Congress have pushed consistently for the restrictions, which were first imposed by the Reagan Administration in the 1980s, but were rescinded by Clinton when he took office.
Clinton said the funding does not go for abortions, but for family planning efforts that reduce the need for the procedure. "If you're in favor of healthy mothers raising healthy babies, you ought to be in favor of family planning," he said.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the restrictions were "self-defeating" and would actually lead to more "unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions and more women dying."
"By hindering the fundamental right to free speech, they are, in one word, anti-democratic," she said.
Clinton also wants $100 million in funding for USAID, the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, primarily in Africa.
The president said 34 million people have AIDS -- and in the developing world, almost half of those with AIDS are women of reproductive age.
"If you care about stopping the spread of AIDS, you ought to care about empowering women to make safe choices for themselves and their children," he said.
The White House ceremony Friday was held to mark World Health Day. Clinton said funding family planning efforts is especially critical to world health because 1 billion people between the ages of 15 and 24 are entering their reproductive years.