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GLOBAL POPULATION MEDIA ANALYSIS

October 16 - 30, 2000

by Ketayoun Darvich-Kodjouri and Kathy Bonk
Communications Consortium Media Center,
1200 New York Avenue, NW, Suite 300,
Washington, DC 20005
202/326-8700

 

CONGRESS AGREES ON INTERNATIONAL FAMILY PLANNING FUNDING

The U.S. Congress passed a foreign aid bill Oct. 25 that increased funding for international family planning programs in the 2001 federal budget and removed the "global gag rule" restriction. The gag rule would have prohibited foreign groups that receive U.S. assistance from using non-U.S. funds to engage in political speech about abortion or perform abortion services in their countries. Major U.S. media outlets reported throughout October on negotiations over the spending bill and on the outcome.

An Oct. 25 front-page New York Times article gave the details: $425 million for international family planning, "up from the $385 million that is currently provided." However, Republicans "made sure that the money could not be used before next Feb. 15 -- after the next president takes office" and could make further decisions about policy surrounding international family planning assistance.

Many stories emphasized the impact of U.S. abortion politics on international family planning programs. The Los Angeles Times reported Oct. 25 that "leading members of Congress agreed...to scrap an anti-abortion restriction on U.S. foreign aid programs -- a significant legislative victory for abortion rights advocates in advance of the Nov. 7 election." The Oct. 25 Washington Times reported that "budget negotiators...agreed to gamble on who will be the next president rather than resolve a dispute over abortion." The Associated Press incorrectly identified the funding as "Abortion Aid" in stories filed Oct. 21 and 25.

The Oct. 27 Omaha World-Herald used a local Planned Parenthood event as the framework for its story and reported that "the outcome of the upcoming election will have a significant effect on domestic and international family-planning programs."

The Washington Post reported on the issue in the context of longer stories about the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill throughout the last two weeks of October. News about the agreement over international family planning funding was also carried by the Chicago Tribune Oct. 26, National Public Radio's Morning Edition Oct. 25 and 26, United Press International Oct. 25, USA Today Oct. 26, and The Wall Street Journal Oct. 20 and 25. International outlets including Agence France Presse and the Pan-African News Agency also reported on the story Oct. 25.

 

GLOBAL POPULATION COVERAGE

Media outlets continued to report on population declines in Russia, including the Oct. 20 Associated Press, Oct. 24 Deutsche Presse-Agentur, and Oct. 26 Independent (London). The AP reported that "Russia's population drop is considered by demographers to be highly unusual in an industrial country," occurring because of "social and economic disorder in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union."

Several countries' census efforts also made the news. China's fifth national census, scheduled to begin Nov. 1, "is more complicated and more arduous" than previous efforts, according to the Oct. 27 Xinhua News Agency. The story noted that to "ensure the accuracy of the census, the data received...are not allowed to be used...to punish anyone on population-related matters."

The Oct. 30 Associated Press reported that the "release of Kenyan census results [were] delayed for the third time" due to "a series of technical, logistical and administrative problems in data processing and analysis" of the 1999 data.

The Oct. 30 Hindu (India) reported that "uncertainty looms large over the completion of" the first census taken in Kashmir since 1981, because of accusations by local politicians that "claimed it was being conducted to decrease the [reported size of the] Muslim population."

 

INTERNATIONAL FAMILY PLANNING AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH

"Contraception in Indonesia, after years of being government policy, is slowly but surely becoming a matter of choice," according to the Oct. 20 Asiaweek (Hong Kong), with "more emphasis on education and on understanding the pros and cons of various methods of birth control." However, "the weakest area is women's reproductive health," resulting in a "towering maternal mortality rate and abortion cases."

The Xinhua News Agency reported Oct. 23 that "more and more Angolan families have resorted to contraceptive methods for ensuring their responsible parenthood," with 17 percent more people using national family planning services than in 1999.

In India, "leading women's rights groups...are pressing the government to give up its plan to use contraceptive injections as part of the national birth control program," according to an Oct. 17 InterPress Service story. The activists "say that these are not suitable for India because...long-acting contraceptives require proper counseling and follow-up, which is not possible with India's poorly managed and ill-equipped health delivery services."

An Oct. 22 interview in The Times of India with activist Alexander Sanger covered family planning programs and politics in India and the United States. Sanger noted that "India was the first country to include family planning in its national health programme," but that the U.S. "do[es] not have national legislation on birth control and very little funding for it."

 

NEWS ABOUT INTERNATIONAL ABORTION TRENDS

The Oct. 17 Boston Globe reported that in Mexico, "the abortion issue is now posing a major challenge to the president-elect [Vicente Fox], forcing him to walk a fine line between his party conservatives and the more liberal majority who swept him to power." The country is experiencing an "increasingly acrimonious debate over abortion," with recent restrictions imposed in several Mexican states "spark[ing] widespread protests from women's groups and human rights organizations, who saw it as a sign of the growing influence of the religious right."

The Associated Press reported Oct. 18 that "dozens of police raided a clinic of an international family planning agency in southern Mexico and arrested a doctor and nurse accused of performing abortions." Marie Stopes International, which runs the Chiapas clinic, denied the charge, saying the agency "offers safe abortion services only in countries where abortion is legal." Agence France Presse also reported the story Oct. 18.

In Cambodia, "illegal abortions in back-alley clinics are costing the lives of hundreds of Cambodian women each year," according to an Oct. 27 Agence France Presse story reporting on a Marie Stopes International study. Deutsche Presse-Agentur also reported on the study Oct. 27.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported Oct. 20 on a Center for Reproductive Law and Policy study of reproductive health policy in Central and East European countries, noting that "Poland drew particularly harsh criticism for having one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe."

 

NEW UNFPA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR NAMED

The Oct. 26 New York Times reported that "Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, an American-educated Saudi woman, was chosen...to be executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, which has made the expansion of women's rights central to its mission of cutting population growth worldwide." Obaid has "25 years of experience in women's issues and development" and is currently head of UNFPA's division for Arab States and Europe.

Obaid will replace Nafis Sadik, who retires at the end of this year after 13 years as executive director of the agency. The Oct. 26 Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Washington Times also reported on the appointment, as did the Associated Press Oct. 24, Agence France Presse Oct. 27 and Deutsche Presse-Agentur Oct. 25.

 

OPINIONS AND EDITORIALS

Media outlets across the U.S. continued to weigh in before and after Congress passed increased FY2001 funding for international family planning programs and removed the global gag rule restrictions in the foreign aid bill.

Newspapers that ran editorials supporting increased funding and the removal of the gag rule included the Burlington County Times (Willingboro, NJ) Oct. 17, Capital Times (Madison, WI) Oct. 21, Daily Camera (Boulder, CO) Oct. 25, Fresno Bee (Fresno, CA) Oct. 30, Galveston County Daily News (Galveston, TX) Oct. 23, Los Angeles Times Oct. 26, New York Times Oct. 19, Newsday (New York) Oct. 23, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA) Oct. 17, Portland Press Herald (Portland, ME) Oct. 27, San Francisco Chronicle Oct. 26, San Jose Mercury News Oct. 26 and The Washington Post Oct. 23.

These editorials focused on women's health, free speech issues, abortion politics and the importance of the presidential election given the Feb. 15 delay in implementation of funding. For example, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted that "every year the U.S. Congress plays politics with its international family planning funds, holding them hostage to an anti-abortion agenda" and that the "offensive gamesmanship, with lifesaving dollars at stake, must end."

The San Francisco Chronicle editorial stated that "foreign aid should be saved for the broad purposes of nation-building, economic growth and democratic reform" and that "an emotional domestic political subject should not be used to deny aid to needy neighbors," giving voters "another reason to focus on the presidential race." Similarly, The Los Angeles Times stated that "a gag rule on family planners overseas may not be an electoral make-or-break issue, but it's one more sharp difference between the candidates."

In addition, the Oct. 21 Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH) reprinted the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's editorial supporting international family planning funding, and the Oct. 30 Burlington County Times (Willingboro, NJ) cited the global gag rule as one reason it was supporting a local congressional candidate.

By contrast, only one editorial was printed that opposed U.S. funding of international family planning programs. The Oct. 30 Times and Free Press (Chattanooga, TN) argued that the international family planning funds would give "taxes to organizations that also use private funds to kill babies" and asked its readers: "will you pay for foreign abortions?"

Media outlets also printed opinion pieces about the gag rule and the international family planning funding debate. A piece by columnist Judy Mann in the Oct. 27 Washington Post stated that "the global gag rule is a cynical, contrived issue designed to keep the fire going in the antiabortion movement" and that "anybody who thinks this election isn't going to make a huge difference to women's rights needs a reality check." Likewise, an Oct. 19 commentary distributed over Knight Ridder/Tribune wire service by the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy's Janet Benshoof noted that the gag rule was about a "commitment to women's rights."

The Oct. 17 Lincoln Journal Star (Lincoln, NE) printed an op-ed by the Population Institute's Werner Fornos that stated "the domestic struggle over abortion, infused with inflammatory rhetoric...has overshadowed all other reproductive health considerations and has indeed taken voluntary
international family planning efforts as a hostage."

Letters supporting international family planning funding and opposing the gag rule were printed by the Oct. 18 Asbury Park Press (Asbury, NJ), Oct. 25 Daily Oklahoman, Oct. 24 Kansas City Star, Oct. 29 New York Times, Oct. 22 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Oct. 16 Sacramento Bee.


The above analysis was written by Ketayoun Darvich-Kodjouri and Kathy Bonk at the Communications Consortium Media Center, 1200 New York Avenue, NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20005, 202/326-8700.

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