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December 17, 2008

A Request for President Obama

It’s time to get rid of a policy that kills women around the world.

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Photo Credit: Katherine Wolkoff

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As we gear up for the new year ahead and new leadership in the White House, the fate and well-being of hundreds of thousands of women around the world hangs in the balance.

More than half a million women die each year giving birth. Young women — adolescent girls ages 15 to 19 — are often the most vulnerable; they account for at least 20 percent of these largely preventable deaths. Fifteen percent of all pregnant women worldwide experience obstetric complications. Too often, a young woman will be in labor for several days, resulting in her baby’s death because her birth is unattended. As it stands, 13 percent of these maternal deaths worldwide — 67,000 per year — are due to unsafe abortion procedures.

Thankfully, on Election Day, we did not choose four more years of conservative, unsympathetic leaders. Under the previous administration, we simply made it far too difficult for women outside of the U.S. to access reproductive-health and family-planning services. Case in point: In 1984, the Reagan administration established the Mexico City Policy — widely referred to as the Global Gag Rule because it denies foreign organizations receiving U.S. family-planning assistance the right to use their own non-U.S. funds to provide legal abortion or counsel, or even to refer to abortion or to lobby for the legalization of abortion. President Clinton rescinded this policy in 1993, but President George W. Bush reinstated it on his first day in office in 2001.

Let’s call on President Obama to rescind it again.

Since 1995, U.S. funding for international family-planning programs has fallen by more than $100 million, despite the fact that the number of women of reproductive age in the developing world alone has increased by approximately 275 million. If Congress continues to cut maternal and child health care at this rate, we will suffer serious global implications. Wars rage when resources are scarce. Food security is compromised, development is halted, and the ever-present gap widens between those who have and those who have not.

It’s time to stop defunding international aid organizations such as the United Nations Population Fund, and to stop our participation in a shameful hypocrisy as we benefit from easy access to reproductive-health services that ensure our own health and security. Our policies should serve as many people as possible, not just the privileged — and by privileged, I mean those of us who have our basic human rights.

According to the UNFPA, about 90 percent of global abortion-related deaths and disabilities could be avoided if women who wanted effective contraception were given access. Is this not a win-win situation?

It is time to reestablish our presence as an accountable and responsible world power. Write to President Obama here and ask him to start by rescinding the Mexico City Policy.

Christy Turlington Burns is a contributing editor at Marie Claire and a CARE Advocate for Maternal Health. For more information on maternal health and family planning around the world, go to care.org. Click here for Christy’s latest Marie Claire column.


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