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EU chief attacks Bush on abortion cash

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Bush's anti-abortion policy has sparked accusations of 'bullying' among academics  

STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- Plans by new U.S. President George W. Bush to ban funding for international family planning groups that support abortion have been criticised by a European Union chief.

After Bush reinstated the policy in one of the first acts of his presidency, Anna Diamantopoulou, EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, said she was disappointed by the move and feared it "may be a signal of things to come."

"Why is it so easy at a single stroke to put back the achievements in the area of equality of 20 years?" she said, speaking at a meeting in Sweden of EU ministers for gender equality.

Diamantopoulou urged Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson to raise the issue at a meeting with Bush planned for June. Sweden currently holds the EU presidency.

But Persson played down the issue, arguing that Bush's abortion policy was a domestic U.S. issue.

"I don't think it is going to affect relations between the United States and Europe," he said.

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Population expert Professor John Hobcraft of the London School of Economics (LSE), said: "To anyone outside the United States it is an extremely strange and bullying policy because it is not about not funding abortion.

"It is not about protecting federal money from abortion. It is really about being completely anti-abortion and trying to do everything you can to sabotage any organisation that is in any way promoting abortion."

The 'Mexico City Policy' that Bush is reinstating was introduced by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, when it was known as the "global gag rule," and rescinded by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

It bans financial support for organisations if any of their funding, even if it does not come from the U.S., is spent on abortion.

This means organisations that also provide other services, including family planning, education and health facilities, will be affected by Bush's action.

Bush said he believed "taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or actively promote abortion either here or abroad."

The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) predicted programmes to prevent unplanned pregnancies will suffer the most from the move -- not abortion services which have been ineligible for U.S. funds for decades.

"To place restrictions on family planning choices disempowers women and men and undermines their efforts to extricate themselves from poverty," IPPF Director General Ingar Brueggemann said in a statement.

"The Mexico City policy has cost many lives and actually increased to a large degree the number of unintended pregnancies and illegal, unsafe abortions causing death and disability."

The policy will not apply to U.S. groups because they are protected by constitutional free speech provisions.

Dr Sheilagh Ogilvie, an economist at Cambridge University, described the move as ethically questionable and said Bush's decision further separates women in poor and rich nations.

"Because abortion is legal for American women it is a little bit inconsistent that the American government is, in a sense, forbidding women in poor countries something which women in the United States are allowed to do," she said.

But LIFE, a pro-life group in Britain, described Bush's decision as an excellent way to begin his presidency.

It urged British Prime Minister Tony Blair to follow the U.S. example.

"IPPF and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) have promoted wicked sterilisation and abortion programmes throughout the Third World and have condoned the brutal one-child policy on China," said Nuala Scarisbrick, a LIFE trustee.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORY:
Bush reinstates ban on international family planning funds
January 22, 2001

RELATED SITES:
London School of Economics and Political Science
International Planned Parenthood Federation
Cambridge University Reporter home page
Institutions of the European Union
Pro-Life

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