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Old 12-23-2002, 03:38 PM   #1
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Family Planning - an article from the Boston Globe.

I thought some Interferencers might be interested in reading this article. It's from the Boston Globe -


Friendly dollars

By Ellen Goodman, 12/22/2002

T FIRST the letters just trickled in to the United Nations Population Fund. A dollar here, five dollars there. It was enough to buy a few birthing kits or cure one 14-year-old mother of the silent plague of fistula.

Of course it didn't begin to make up for the $34 million that the Bush administration denied the international family planning group. But the trickle didn't stop either. It grew all fall until an astonished woman at the UNFPA decided to invest in an electronic letter opener.

Now, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Every day, 500 or 600 more letters arrive in the New York office from Americans bearing gifts to women overseas. Some include a dollar for every member of the family or for everyone in the office or in the church.

The UNFPA's Mari Tikkanen, who stays after work with other volunteers to take the money out of the envelopes, stopping occasionally to read the letters to each other, says, ''I've never seen anything like it.'' Maybe there hasn't been anything quite like it.

About six months ago, two women who had never met had the same thought. Jane Roberts, a retired French teacher, and Lois Abraham, a lawyer, were both outraged when Bush reneged on funds for the UNFPA. This was money for contraception and sex education, for maternal health care and AIDS education. It would have helped prevent 2 million unwanted pregnancies, 800,000 abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths.

Roberts wrote a letter to the editor of her local paper: ''More women die in childbirth in a few days than terrorism kills people in a year. Ho hum. Some little girl is having her genitals cut with a cactus needle. Ho hum.'' Abraham, meanwhile, asked herself, ''How come we aren't screaming about this from the rooftops?'' She sent out an e-mail calling family planning ''a humanitarian issue, not a political one.''

Independently, the two women came up with what Roberts called an ''exercise in outraged democracy.'' What would happen, they asked, if 34 million Americans each gave a dollar to make up for the money? So was born ''34 Million Friends.''

Does the campaign have an amateurish quality? Hey kids, we could do the show right here? So be it. Roberts says, ''We want 34 million Americans to have their own teeny-tiny foreign policy.'' Maybe we all need one.

From the moment Bush was sworn into office, his administration sacrificed international family planning to the farthest tip of the right wing of his party. First came the global gag rule, refusing funds to any group that would tell a woman where she could get an abortion, even in countries where abortion was legal. Next came the withholding of money to UNFPA on the blatantly false grounds that the organization helped the Chinese government push coercive abortions.

Despite all the hoo-ha about liberating Afghan women, the White House has never acknowledged that women's freedom includes the freedom to decide when and how to have children. The women in the poorest parts of the world were held hostage to domestic politics. Did the administration think we'd never notice? Never care?

It wasn't enough to withdraw family planning funds. At the recent, contentious UN population conference, our government went even further. It tried to overturn international agreements.

Asian countries had come to Bangkok to implement the 1994 UN Cairo agreement on population. They wanted to talk about gender equality and poverty, contraception and HIV. The United States came to unravel the agreement. They wanted to talk about natural family planning and to delete any references to ''reproductive health.''

Among the US delegates was a man who previously represented the Vatican and a woman who lectured the Asians on her own success using the rhythm method. Our country ended up an isolated minority of one.

If Trent Lott is nostalgic for the wonderful yesteryear before civil rights, this administration is nostalgic for the days before women's rights. Is it any wonder that some Americans have responded to 34 Million Friends? This is an idea that comes with an address, a place where we can offer aid as well as dissent, a dollar as well as a message of connection to the women of the world: US Committee for UNFPA, 220 E. 42nd St., New York, NY 10017.

It took months for the campaign to reach its first $100,000. It took just weeks to add in another $50,000. If the goal of $34 million sounds elusive, UNFPA's Tikkanen says, ''When it hit $1,000, I was thrilled. Now I don't think anything is impossible.''

One dollar per person. Abraham calls it an ''entry fee'' to have your voice heard. I call it a pretty low price for a new, improved foreign policy.

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Old 12-26-2002, 11:01 PM   #2
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good for them

might send in a dollar or two...

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Old 12-27-2002, 10:12 AM   #3
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I definitely encourage women (and men too!) to do this--the English and women's studies departments at my (Catholic) college got together and collected a dollar from every professor in those departments and from many of the students as well. It's a very simple, affordable, grassroots sort of way to get our message across that, whether you're pro-life or pro-choice, women's health is important worldwide.
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