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Friends (and Enemies) of Reproductive Rights

In this hotly contested U.S. presidential race, the assault on women’s right to control their own bodies continues. In May, a group of anti-choice legislators introduced into both the House and the Senate the “Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act,” which would require doctors to recite this statement to women about to have an abortion procedure: “Congress finds that there is substantial evidence that the process of being killed in an abortion will cause the unborn child pain, even though you received a pain-reducing drug.” Doctors who do not comply could be fined up to $25,000. The bill is presently pending in the House and the Senate. Then in July, the House Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to the annual federal health spending bill that would allow any health care providers, from hospitals to individual doctors, to deny access to or even information about abortion services. The amendment was advocated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In a related story, women in New York, Wisconsin and Texas have reported to Planned Parenthood that pharmacists in their respective states refused to fill birth control prescriptions on so-called moral grounds. Planned Parenthood is asking all women who have had this experience to get in touch with them (www.ppaction.org).

And, in July, President Bush—for the third year in a row—withheld Congress-approved funds from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) totaling $34 million, alleging that UNFPA supports forced abortions in China. This despite a report from a fact-finding team picked by Bush which could not verify this claim. The United States is the only country ever to use politics to block funding to UNFPA. Expressing its disappointment over the Administration’s decision, the population fund declared: “The money is urgently needed to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS, prevent maternal deaths, provide family planning and reduce recourse to abortion.”

The organization 34 Million Friends, www.34millionfriends.org, was founded two years ago by Jane Roberts and Lois Abraham, both of New Mexico, in direct reaction to this outrageous action by the Bush Administration. Furious at hearing the news, the women decided on an appropriate response: they would convince 34 million people to each donate one dollar, to make up for the lost funds. So far, 34 Million Friends has raised more than two million dollars. Donations go directly to UNFPA, where they are used to save women’s lives by training midwives, providing contraceptives, and running health-care related programs that include HIV/AIDS prevention.