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On January 22, his second day in office and the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President George W. Bush restored in full an executive order banning U.S.-funded international organizations from even talking about abortion. Spun as an "anti-abortion" action, in fact it was an attack on free speech. (Federal funding for abortion has been illegal since 1973.) But even as Bush was gagging women and doctors around the globe, he was giving voice to theocrats here at home.

What could the gag order mean for health providers and their clients? Consider Peru, where abortion is illegal and both a woman who ends a pregnancy and the person who performs her abortion can be punished. At the same time, vast numbers of women are without contraception, sex education and basic reproductive services. Under a previous incarnation of the gag order, Peruvian feminists had to choose between a large U.S. grant to give reproductive health services to thousands of poor, rural women and young people, and their organization's right to advocate for what they believe is best for all Peruvians—a change in the country's anti-abortion law. Painfully, they chose the muzzle.

Although Bush has indicated he'll support the existing $425 million allocation for worldwide family planning services, Adrienne Germain of the International Women's Health Coalition is fearful that the U.S. Agency for International Development could impose new restrictions on how the money is spent.

A week after his declaration on the so-called global gag rule, Bush announced the formation of a White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Its agenda: to move more public sector jobs into private religious hands and, not coincidentally, to permit the flow of more federal dollars to religious groups, including those that push the pro-life cause.

Church groups, Bush says, deserve a chance to compete for taxpayer money for after-school programs, prison ministries and drug treatment, among other things. To that end, he says, the Republican administration will make "billions" of dollars available for charitable groups that meet social needs. "When we see social needs in America," Bush announced, "my administration will look first to faith-based programs and community groups."

 

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