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Experts say U.S. policies put women at risk

Health experts are accusing the United States of putting millions of women at risk by teaching that sexual abstinence is the best way to fight AIDS.
/ Source: Reuters

The United States is endangering the lives of millions of women because of its policy of teaching that sexual abstinence is the best way to fight AIDS, women’s health experts said on Thursday.

They also accused the United States of putting women at risk by cutting funding to groups Washington says promote abortion.

Delegates at a meeting in London to gauge progress since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development said policies backed by President George W. Bush had hurt their cause.

“As the U.S. attacks the efficacy of condoms, as the U.S. refuses to put its shoulder behind making sure that women have the ability to protect themselves, it is becoming responsible in effect for the deaths of tens of thousands, in fact of millions, of women,” said Timothy Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation and a former U.S. senator.

AIDS activists say the best way to fight the disease is to encourage use of condoms, rather than merely tell people not to have sex.

Marcela Howell, director of the group Advocacy for Youth, said the abstinence policy was driven by ideology, not science.

“The U.S. government has already spent over $1 billion domestically on failed programs,” said Howell. “And now the administration is poised to export this unproven policy around the globe as an HIV prevention strategy for youth.”

One of Bush’s first moves when he took office more than three years ago was to deny funding to non-governmental organizations deemed to promote or provide abortions.

Delegates said this had cost tens of millions of dollars for organizations that work to improve women’s reproductive health, like the International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF) and the United Nations Population Fund.

“We’ve seen policies emanating from this administration that have led to more unwanted pregnancies around the world, more deaths from pregnancy-related causes and more HIV infections and more unsafe abortions,” IPPF head Steven Sinding said.

The policy amounted to “a global gag rule that stifles the free speech of healthcare providers who try to help women in the poorest countries decide how to deal with unwanted pregnancies,” he said.

At the 1994 meeting in Cairo, 179 U.N. member states set goals to improve women’s reproductive health, education and rights, reduce infant mortality and curb population growth by 2015.

The London meeting, Countdown 2015, with 700 delegates from 109 countries, marks the halfway point to the deadline.