Monday, August 22, 2005


By William Fisher

A non-governmental organization is suing the U.S. Government’s “anti-prostitution” policy, charging that it is an ”unconstitutional infringement of speech” that is undermining international efforts to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The NGO, DKT International, filed the suit in the District Court of the District of Columbia against the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its administrator, challenging the requirement that U.S. and foreign NGOs receiving USAID funding from adopt a policy “explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking.”

USAID adopted the rule requirement in June, as one of a number of policies advocated by the ‘pro-life’ religious right. Other Bush Administration initiatives include endorsement of the so-called Mexico Protocol, which forbids abortion counseling in family planning programs overseas.

U.S. observance of the protocol -- termed “the global gag rule” by family planning professionals -- was rescinded during the Clinton Administration but
re-authorized under President George W. Bush on his first day in office in January 2001.

Under the rule, foreign family planning agencies may not receive U.S. funds if, with their own funds, they counsel on or refer for abortion, advocate for more lenient abortion laws in their own country, or provide abortion services.

DKT’s president, Philip D. Harvey, said the anti-prostitution and sex trafficking policy “does a grave disservice to international AIDs-prevention programs and to those who carry them out. The policy does no good, and is clearly doing considerable harm.”

He added,” I have found that non-governmental organizations around the world really despise this anti-prostitution pledge. In addition to making their work harder, it undermines their integrity, insults them really.”

DKT International is a non-profit organization based in Washington DC. It manages contraceptive social marketing programs for family planning and AIDS prevention in eleven countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. DKT’s programs currently serve just under 10 million couples, with an operating budget of $50 million.

Harvey said ameliorating the impact of HIV/AIDS requires “work with persons at highest risk of infection, including those in the sex trades. We deal with sex workers as equals. We accept what they do as part of the reality of today’s world, and we do our best to empower them so they can adopt practices that will minimize the risk of HIV transmission for themselves and their partners and improve their chances of getting access to life-saving health services. To do this work under an ‘anti-prostitution’ policy would be dysfunctional.”

He added, “Such a policy further stigmatizes the very people we are trying to help. It requires us to condemn what sex workers do for a living, thus undermining the relationship of trust and mutual respect required to effectively conduct AIDS-prevention work. DKT will not allow its field workers to be put in that position.”

The U.S. policy, he declared, “harms America’s image and America’s interests abroad. No one pretends that such a policy will contain or ameliorate the darker aspects of the world’s oldest profession. It represents posturing by American politicians who are increasingly seen around the world as patronizing, bullying, and obsessed with sex.”

“By coercing the speech of private parties”, he added, “the policy violates the First Amendment rights -- and the integrity -- of the organizations that are forced into compliance.”

DKT’s programs are supported by the Packard, Hewlett, and Gates foundations, and by the German KfW, the British DFID, and the Dutch, Irish, and Indian Governments.

As a result of refusing to adopt (and certify) USAID’s policy on prostitution, DKT has lost USAID support for its AIDS-prevention work in Vietnam. Its lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to permit it to resume this work.

Meanwhile, in Kabul, Afghanistan, seven reproductive health care centers, formerly supported by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), were reopened this month with help from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Run by a local NGO, the Afghan Family Guidance Association (AFGA), the clinics were forced to close in June due to IPPF “funding problems”. IPPF’s U.S. affiliate, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, did not respond to telephone calls or emails regarding the nature of its funding problems.

"The UNFPA funding, US $50,000 for the next six months, is a vital bridging assistance this year until we are fully registered with IPPF in 2006 and get our budget from its core fund," said Ahmad Zeya Yousufzai, AFGA’s executive director.

But according to AFGA, very little is happening on the issue of reproductive health care outside the capital, making the challenge and need for further funding even greater.

Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world and according to a recent Afghanistan national human development report, one woman dies in the country every 20 minutes.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), child mortality was very high in the war-ravaged country. Afghanistan’s first national human development report, released in early March, indicated that 20 percent of children died before the age of five.

Yousufzai believes one of the reasons behind maternal and child mortality, as well as morbidity, is a lack of family planning and giving birth to too many children without a gap of two to three years between each live birth.

AFGA centers receive more than 700 women visitors each day. The centers offer guidance and services on family planning, HIV/AIDS awareness, youth and adolescence, reproductive and sexual health and gender-based violence advocacy.

Meanwhile, the anti-abortion Population Research Institute (PRI) is making plans to establish a pro-life office in Afghanistan “to assist Afghan women and families in their fight against the anti-natal agenda of UN agencies and anti-child NGOs.”

PRI said, “The recent legalization of abortion by Kabul's interim government was the catalyst…Abortion in Afghanistan is now legal up to the third month of pregnancy. Although, according to reports, three doctors must certify that the abortion is a medical necessity, such regulations have quickly degenerated in other countries to abortion on demand.”

The Bush Administration has withheld, for the third consecutive year, funds earmarked for UNFPA. It said the $34 million would be used for other purposes.
The decision was not unexpected, given the administration's efforts to fire up its Christian-right-wing base in advance of last November's presidential election.

UNFPA says it does not support abortion. It believes that abortion should not be promoted as a method of family planning. UNFPA promotes improved access to voluntary family planning to prevent unwanted pregnancies and eliminate the need for abortion.


By William Fisher

When Congress returns to work in early September, it will face debate on a number of hot-button issues likely to inflame passions on the political left and right and deepen the country’s ideological divide.

The probable agenda includes reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, immigration and border control, embryonic stem cell research, a number of critical legal reforms, consideration of a new report from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) detailing its handling of pre-9/11 intelligence – and, of course, the confirmation hearings for John G. Roberts to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Groups on the political right and left have been busy loading their heavy artillery for the Roberts hearings. During August, they have been poring over some 60,000 pages of documents provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee by the government and the Reagan Library, looking for clues to Roberts’s judicial, social, and political views. Key areas of concern include civil rights, affirmative action, privacy, separation of church and state, a woman’s right to choose abortion, federal versus states’ rights, the authority of the judiciary branch of government, and the powers of the president and the executive branch versus those of congress.

Roberts was nominated by President George W. Bush in July. Confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee are scheduled to begin September 6. Roberts would be replacing Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court, who announced she would retire when her replacement was confirmed.

Advocacy groups on the left and right have raised tens of millions of dollars to make their views known to the senate and the people. One of them, the pro-choice NARAL, stumbled early in the process by launching – and then withdrawing -- a series of television ads implying that Roberts sided with violent extremists and a convicted abortion clinic bomber while serving in the Solicitor General's office, an accusation that Roberts's supporters immediately condemned as a flagrant distortion. The group fears that Roberts would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.

A second major controversy will surround the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act. Hurriedly passed with little debate five weeks after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the measure gave law enforcement sweeping new powers to investigate and prosecute suspected terrorists and those who support them. A number of its provisions are due to expire at the end of this year.

Both houses of Congress have passed bills to renew the expiring parts of the Patriot Act. House and Senate leaders will meet to reconcile the considerable differences between the two bills.

In general, the House version would not only renew the expiring provisions, but would give law enforcement expanded new authorities. The Senate version is titled more toward reform of provisions that civil libertarians find troubling.

For example, it would require statements of fact on the relevancy of personal records in foreign intelligence investigations, offer suspects a right to challenge orders for personal records, provide more judicial oversight and checks on abuse in personal record searches, and mandate shorter delays for notification of secret "sneak and peek" searches.

Immigration will be another major issue facing Congress. The Judiciary Committee will be grappling with two conflicting approaches. One, introduced by two border-state Republicans, Sens. John Kyl of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas, would require workers in the U.S. illegally to return home before being permitted to participate in a new guest worker program. It would also allocate substantial new money for border control, interior and workplace enforcement, emphasizing "mandatory return" of an estimated 10 million illegal workers, and the other a authorizing a ‘guest worker’ program to provide undocumented immigrants a way to gain legal status. The other, introduced by Sens. Edward Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and John McCain, Republican of Arizona, proposes a guest worker program while beefing up enforcement.

President Bush proposed a guest worker program over a year and a half ago, but ran into stiff opposition from House Republicans, who attacked it as an "amnesty" and demanded an enforcement crackdown.

Both sides acknowledge that the current system is dysfunctional. The wide availability of jobs in the United States, and the large pool of willing workers from Latin America and elsewhere, has swamped the availability of legal slots, leading to rampant violation of immigration laws and overwhelming the government's ability to enforce them.

There are some 10 million or more illegal immigrants in the U.S. and the number is believed to be growing rapidly.

Congress will also be focusing on the CIA’s pre-9/11 failures, with delivery of the long-overdue inspector general's report, now been completed nearly two years after the deadline set by congress.

The report has yet to be sent to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees because CIA Director Porter J. Goss is still deciding how to respond to its findings, according to administration and congressional sources. It is expected to
go to Congress shortly.

The CIA director was mandated to report to Congress on steps taken to assign
responsibility for poor performance and to reward excellence.

Appropriating federal funds for embryonic stem cell research is also likely to raise the congressional temperature and mobilizing advocacy groups on the right and the left. Senate Major Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican and cardiac surgeon, announced just before recess that he would break with President Bush and authorize the use of federal money to fund research on embryos due to be discarded by fertility clinics and hospitals.

This initiative is fiercely opposed by groups on the religious right and endorsed by most physicians and scientists. President Bush has said he would veto such a measure because he believes it would “destroy life to create life”.

Another civil liberties-related bill, the so-called Streamlined Procedures Act, is also likely to provoke controversy and attract media attention because it would limit the centuries-old right to habeas corpus by barring federal courts from reviewing most capital sentencing, creating shorter timetables for appeals, or imposing onerous procedural roadblocks to prevent federal courts from considering key issues.

Habeas corpus, through which inmates challenge the legality of their detentions, has become the essential vehicle by which convicts on death row or serving lengthy prison terms attack their state-court convictions. Many innocent people owe their freedom to their ability to file habeas petitions.