WASHINGTON -- Sending what the American Civil Liberties Union called an ominous message on both reproductive rights and freedom of speech, President George W. Bush today reinstated a government policy that denies these basic liberties to family planning organizations operating overseas.
"Where is the compassion in denying American aid to vital public health services overseas?" said Catherine Weiss, Director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project. "How is it compassionate to cut U.S. support for desperately needed family planning services, maternal health care and HIV/AIDS prevention? Re-imposition of this gag rule threatens all of these services by denying U.S. dollars to organizations that exercise their right to free speech."
Speaking to reporters yesterday, the Bush Administration also mischaracterized the policy, which is known as the "global gag rule." Although the Administration said it would re-impose the gag rule because it does not support using federal funds for abortions, the gag rule actually denies crucial aid to foreign nongovernmental organizations that use their own money to advocate for or against legal abortion or to perform legal abortions in their own countries.
President Bush's move came on the 28th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed to women for the first time the right to control their reproductive choices. It also came as the U.S. Senate continues to consider President Bush's controversial nomination of anti-choice activist John Ashcroft to be Attorney General.
And this morning, President Bush delivered a statement to anti-Roe protestors in which he said that "unborn children" should be covered by the "promises of our Declaration of Independence."
"Today's statement and decision to re-impose the gag rule undermine the Administration's promises to respect the nation's laws, including those established by Roe v. Wade," said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU's Washington National Office. "With one of his first actions as President, George Bush has decided to punish organizations for engaging in legal activities that would be protected by the First Amendment if carried out in the United States."
The ACLU noted that the gag rule would be unconstitutional if it were attempted here. "President Bush should not be allowed to export an undemocratic policy he would be prohibited from imposing within the borders of the United States," Murphy said.