Foreign Policy magazine has recently published what they consider to be each of the presidential nominees’ 10 worst policy ideas. Among them was McCain’s support of the Global Gag Rule (excerpt from the FP article below).
Supporting Abstinence-Only Education and the Global Gag Rule
What he said: Asked on the campaign trail if he thought grants for sex education should include instruction on contraception, McCain turned to an aide for help, saying, “Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception—I’m sure I’m opposed to government spending on it, I’m sure I support the president’s policies on it.” The reporter asked, “Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?” After a long pause, McCain replied, “You’ve stumped me.” —Town hall meeting, Iowa, Mar. 16, 2007
Why it’s a bad idea: A landmark, 10-year study sponsored by Congress found in 2007 that students in sexual-abstinence programs “were just as likely to have sex as those who did not, reported having similar numbers of sexual partners, and first had sex at about the same age,” the Chicago Tribune reported. Abstinence-only education is one of the core principles guiding the so-called global gag rule, an executive order passed by President George W. Bush in 2001 that prohibits giving foreign aid to NGOs that offer any kind of counseling on abortion as family planning. McCain voted against repealing the measure in 2005. Critics of the gag rule point to reports showing a shortage of contraceptives, clinic closings, loss of funds for HIV/AIDS education, and a rise in unsafe abortions since it was instituted.
Now, I have many issues with foreign aid and the global aid industry, including bilateral donors like the US, and am highly skeptical of the effectiveness of the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). HIV/AIDS has become an obsession of the aid community and has hijacked or otherwise derailed domestic health priorities. While the global gag rule should not be the biggest of our concerns regarding foreign aid, it just goes to show you the hubris of aid policy makers. Abortion is illegal in Uganda — but whether or not NGOs in the country offer any kind of counseling on abortion should be the concern of Ugandans, not Americans who have themselves legalized the practice.
I am not at all confident Barack Obama will help make critical changes to the aid industry — there has been little evidence that he is thinking differently about foreign aid than his party typically has. But I am certain that a President McCain would make the same self-righteous and arrogant blunders as his predecessor. Which experience shows will do little to help those on the receiving end of aid, and which will burn a lot of taxpayers’ dollars on the way.