Recently the New York Times ran a thought-provoking editorial called The War on Women, addressing cuts to women’s health programs, much of it due to the “A word” – abortion. It’s hard to believe that here we are in 2011 and elected officials want to turn the clock back on women’s rights and health. We should be investing in the health of our citizens, not cutting back family planning services, which include crucial screenings for breast and cervical cancer.
The proposed legislation would also drastically eliminate funding for international family planning services and reinstate the global gag rule, a measure that prevents U.S. aid to overseas organizations that even so much as give lip service to abortion. It is your right to support or not support abortion. But in my experience, organizations working on reproductive health and family planning do so much more than provide advice on abortion. The work these NGOs do is crucial to improving the lives of many people and communities.
The following is an excerpt from an article I wrote for the Sierra Club, after I returned from a Club-sponsored study tour to India; this was one of many groups with whom we met dealing with reproductive health:
The purpose of the Aastha Project (Aastha means “to care about.”), sponsored by Family Health International, is to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and the incidence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) amongst sex workers and their partners, thereby reducing transmission of HIV amongst the 70,000 sex workers – and their children – in two districts of Mumbai. This is achieved through condom promotion, screening and treatment for STIs, advocacy, and community mobilization which is street-based, home-based, brothel-based, and includes transgender, and male sex workers. STI services are provided to the workers and their partners via static clinics, satellite clinics, and monthly health camps/community clinics.
The sex workers come from all over India, driven by the desperate poverty in states like Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. Many are illiterate and come from lower castes. Or they come from abroad, by choice or by force, mainly from Nepal and Bangladesh, sometimes lured by the prospect of employment or sold by parents needing money.
Groups like Family Health International understand that education and community involvement is key – that they need to do more than just distribute condoms to alter behavior. Empowering the sex workers themselves helps reach out to those most at risk in a highly stigmatized community.
HIV/AIDS must be dealt with in many countries, and it is part of family planning services. Organizations such as FHI do critical, life-changing work. And they rely to some extent on funding for their projects from U.S. federal funds. They will suffer due to U.S. political maneuvering. We need to deal with the whole picture, and that means supporting education, jobs, and healthcare, and putting an end to restrictions on aid to people who desperately want to improve their lives. Reproductive health is about more than abortion. It is about empowering and improving lives, which is good for society.